I have never seen people so anxious NOT to celebrate a holiday before. It’s like everyone wants to be more “ethical,” “sensitive,” and “non-Euro-centric” than the next person. Suddenly, everyone is very interested in the nitty-gritty of history but only so we can tear down the movers and shakers of the world.
I have a secret to share. People are not perfect. Those who make the biggest changes in the world are particularly driven personalities. Thus, their ordinary biases, flaws, selfishness, and narrow focus claims more obvious casualties than those of people with more humble ambitions. The only way to embrace your heritage is to accept that it is necessarily flawed. There is no nation that has been built on unsoiled reputations alone. We should certainly learn from history. We should absolutely try not to repeat its errors. But there is a difference between acknowledgement and veneration.
For example, I can acknowledge Robert E. Lee as a skilled general and a man deeply dedicated to his home state. In a world of more difficult transportation and less connectivity, Virginia and the South WAS his world, his country, his source of loyalty. Anyone with roots can appreciate that loyalty when given options that were perhaps less polarized than our historical perspective would draw them. I could enjoy a beautifully made statue of him as I remember these qualities. I do not necessarily or even remotely venerate Lee “as slave owner.”
I can set aside a day to appreciate that without Columbus…
–my Irish ancestors may have starved to death without potatoes,
–some of my ancestors may not have arrived here in America to start a new life a handful of years after the Mayflower, and
–there may not have been a country here where I could now practice my Catholic faith without early Spanish influence in the first European-influenced centuries in the New World.
We don’t know how things may have changed. We don’t know what better or worse person may have taken his place had he not made attempts at colonization in this newly encountered land. All we know is that his life’s actions, including the ugly ones, led eventually through many twists to the prosperous, highly cultured land we’re lucky to call home.
I think this current trend to re-examine history stems partly from a desire to find someone or something to venerate, or even to worship. It’s the natural void of a secularized society. We’re a republic and rather divided politically, so we can’t venerate the state or the Leader as some secular societies have done. To be honest, we struggle even to show basic respect towards our leaders most days.
Increasingly, we can’t even take pride in our heritage. In fact, the main groups trying to tear down our historical pride are specifically negative in their campaign to force social change. Their words are all about “solidarity” but their methods seem generally destructive rather than constructive. Yet, there are structures (political and social) that need deconstructing in our society. There are marginalized groups. There is always need for more compassion, more true charity person to person, more truth lovingly said, and more understanding of each other.
So, what do we do? How can we find a middle ground between honesty and gratitude or humility and patriotism on a holiday like today? These are tricky waters to navigate as a parent and educator.
Here are my resolutions for Columbus Day:
–Thank God for the privileges I have to be where I am today, and thank Him for getting me here despite the daily failures of myself and many people of every race, religion, and origin who have gone before me.
–Talk to my kids about heroes. Talk to them honestly about historical figures–praising their virtues and mourning their sins. It’s part of our story, and everyone needs to know his or her own story. Also talk about how some figures, like Columbus, can become a symbol of what people hope to be rather than an exact picture of who the historical person was.
Tell them that our best heroes are the saints–those who have lived an examined life of heroic virtue and have repented of their sins and moved forward in the confidence of God’s mercy. And end in prayer before the God who alone is worthy of worship.
–Let my kids know that we live in a great country, and that it’s their responsibility to make it even better. They do this by living a good life in God’s grace and being His hands of healing in our family, our community, and our world.