National Anthem: To Kneel Or Not To Kneel

That is the question, isn’t it?

Or for many of you, the question is whether or not to watch the NFL.

As some of you know, I not only support our troops, I was one of them. I understand what it means to be a soldier, and what it feels like when war takes lives. We are taught to have utmost respect for our flag, not only as a symbol for freedom (like most citizens are taught), but as a symbol of what we represent as a nation. This nation that we fight for. This nation that we have pledged our lives to die for.

When I stand for the national anthem and place my hand over my heart, I take the time to reflect on my battle buddies. The ones I’ve lost, the ones that are still serving, the ones I have not met. Sometimes, I’m so enthralled with thoughts of a particular battle buddy who I am still grieving for. Even briefly mentioning this grief is causing me to tear up. It’s unresolved grief.

When I heard about Ember Alt’s death, it was happenstance. I was scrolling through Facebook when I happened upon someone who posted on her wall. They talked about how much they missed her and wished she wasn’t gone. I was taken aback in disbelief. It sounded like a grief post.. but maybe it was just a post about how she was still on deployment in Afghanistan. So, I went on her page. That’s when I found out that she had died months ago. I never even knew. It hit me really hard. I googled everything I could about her death: funeral announcements, newspaper articles, and I even looked up where she is buried.

I think about her often, but particularly when I stand and look at that flag, knowing that a flag was folded so carefully and handed to her family at her funeral. Knowing a bugle was played, and a gun salute performed. Just like the funerals I attended as an Honor Guard. I know her body lies in a grave, 6-feet underground in a cemetery in Texas. I have yet to see it, but I do know that I intend to someday.

I intended to talk about her for Memorial Day, and I will most likely do a tribute with a post about my time with her and a picture of her note that is on my fridge. I think this was good for me to process and feel a bit seeing as the next Memorial Day is several months from now.

This is where I come from in my perspective on this hot topic. I wholly support those who kneel. I don’t find knees touching the ground to be disrespectful at all to the flag or more importantly to those who have served.

In fact, I find people kneeling to be a good demonstration that our country needs to change. The truth is that not everyone experiences the freedom that the flag symbolizes. Our country has been built upon protests: The Boston Tea Party, the Women Suffrage Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, the Stonewall Riots. The list is nearly endless, and the history books don’t even begin to cover it.

Without protests, change just doesn’t seem to happen at a large scale. As humans, we tend to fail to understand each other, because we mistakenly think that our experience is similar to others, or that our perspective is morally right. We fail to approach each other with openness and acceptance of their own experience. This lack of validation ultimately gets us nowhere. When we fail to recognize what needs to change, people take it upon themselves to make you aware. It’s these demonstrations of awareness that ultimately creates change.

If you think that people should stick to small-scale change: one-on-one interactions, you haven’t felt what that is like. It’s exhausting. Trying to get a person to see why a change is necessary is important, but we have limitations for how much energy we can spend. Not only would it take so long that the process would outlive us and several generations after us, but also the fight would seem endless, pointless, and discouraging. Now, I’m not saying the fight already doesn’t seem this way nor that it doesn’t take that long, because it definitely does. However, engaging in larger-scale change and reaching a larger audience is important. It cuts down on how much energy you need to spend for each individual person. Instead, you reach many, and it is far more efficient and effective. You reach people who potentially wouldn’t have known about it for years.

I grew up in a bubble. I had no idea about the racial injustice that still goes on today. And now, I live in a city that is responsible for so much of it. I hear of it happening in the news. I see the Army National Guard posted outside, ready to respond. I hear about it happening to my teammates, my Slamily. It’s eye-opening.

Kneeling for the National Anthem isn’t disrespecting my fallen comrades. It’s raising awareness that freedom isn’t as prevalent as it should be. That we as a country need to repair what we have done to our own people. What we once stood for needs to come back, more inclusive, more accepting, better. We should be able to stand up for what we believe in. I want to believe in my country. Due to recent events, and becoming more aware of what has happened in the past, my belief has faltered.

No matter if I stand or kneel during the National Anthem, I will always reflect on my comrades. They didn’t die for you to hate your fellow Americans. They didn’t die for you to boycott the NFL. They died for change, like all of the fallen soldiers before them. I hope the world changes. I hope our country changes.

Until then, I’ll kneel with you.

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