On a recent evening I attended the Patriot Tour at the Pasadena Civic Center. It featured Marcus Luttrell, former Navy SEAL and lone survivor of the ill-fated “Operation Red Wing.” Special forces warriors Billy Wagasy, Pete Scobell and Chad Fleming were also present along with Tyra Kyle, wife of slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
The theme of the evening was patriotism. However, I saw a deeper message in their words. Patriotism is an ideal difficult to intellectualize. It’s not a feeling, an idea, or a mandate. Instead, it’s a state of mind, a reflection of our self-worth combined with a respect for our roots. Love of country plays a part but it’s not merely love. It’s not pride either, although having pride is an ingredient. It’s not so much paying allegiance to the motherland either, however, according to Plato, loyalty to the state is of essence. It is however, allegiance to a shared spirit.
Patriotism is a commitment to what is best inside us all. And it's recognizing that wondrous common essence in our greater surroundings: our school, team, city, state, and our community.
There was, however, one commonality of perspective foundational to the thoughts expressed by the speakers. Saying you are a patriot is not enough, you have to be one! But how do you do that? That’s the question.
Luttrell, Wagasy, Scobell and Fleming as patriots became elite warriors. What they experienced is unfathomable to the average citizen and they endured it willingly. They’ll live their lives haunted by the severity of their past. Although they expressed the adherence to, “God, Family and Country,” I understand the rationale that prompted them toward the warrior ethos. It is to satiate a deeper need within.
As the men spoke, they lamented the loss of their friends and the countless numbers who lie in gardens of stone. They understand that America has a hole in its heart relative to the sons and daughters who perished. Tyra Kyle created a greater context to their grief as she visualized the pain and suffering of mothers, dads, family and friends. I deciphered her thoughts: “It is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
It’s difficult to rationalize such loss. We wage senseless wars whereby people volunteer to give their lives in exchange for small paychecks and being called patriots.
Tyra Kyle touched my sensibilities. She commented on the loss of her husband, author of best-selling “American Sniper.” She spoke of the ripple effect, a spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event. “I believe in playing it forward,” she said. “The ripple effect is a powerful thing. One small act of kindness can mean the world to someone. I have lived it. My family has benefited from it and we try to do the same for others.”
I was enthralled by her faith in light of the heartbreak she continues to endure. “Chris left us with a lot to do. Everyone struggles. I believe if we are open to it, we can see how God prepares us ahead of time for the hardships we will face in our lives. He also takes care of us afterward and shows us how to help others.”
I have seen and experienced the horrors of war and I realize these warriors will never be the same. Consequently I listened intently to their insightful wisdom. Those who have lived on the edge are sensitive to the subtleties of meaning. At the end of the evening, Marcus Luttrell expressed what I believe to be the essence of why one continues relative to their respective hardships. He said, “Finding meaning in simple things, a job, your children, and the love of a good woman.”
The evening was over. We went home — and they back to their memories.