Sunday, July 1, 2007


(I first published this little piece years ago in a magazine called network. Later it appeared in a collection of my stuff titled Only When I Laugh (Signature Books). So it's hardly new. But, the state of things being what it is, I felt like putting it on the blog this month. So here it is. )

July is, of course, the stellar month for displaying the flag, setting the porch on fire with firecrackers, and otherwise celebrating our nation's birth. But during my childhood, February always headed the hit parade as the most patriotic month of the year. In school, we seemed to spend forever cutting out black paper silhouettes of Lincoln and smearing brown Crayolas over our wobbly drawings of log cabins; no sooner had the library paste dried than it was time for cherry trees, hatchets, and pictures of George Washington with his funny pony tail and grim smile. (Both birthdays were celebrated in those bygone, less hurried days. "Presidents Day" came later.) July couldn't touch February for patriotism, mainly because we weren't in school and thus didn't get so worked up with arts, crafts, and classroom pageantry.

All this nostalgia got me thinking about whether I am really patriotic. And that's when I decided we needed a new word; so I coined one.


Think about it. "Patriotic," of course, comes from the Latin pater, meaning father; a patriot is one "who loves and loyally or zealously supports his own country," his fatherland. A perfectly good word for a perfectly good feeling.

"Matriotic," by analogy, comes from the Latin mater; a matriot is then one who loves and loyally or zealously supports her motherland, her own planet--Mother Earth.

The two words are not perfectly analogous, fortunately, otherwise people might see conflict of interest where there is none. Patriotism, as we use the word, is about the flag and the history of a nation; in our case, it's about the Bill of Rights, free elections, and the peaceful transfer of power, even after a national trauma like the assassination of John Kennedy or the Watergate scandal.

Matriotism, on the other hand, is yin to patriotism's yang. It's about the Earth, not the world. It's about what those fortunate few have seen from spaceship portals, not what we see on a map or a globe with regularly updated borderlines and political color-coding. Matriotism is about one sun by day and one moon by night, a moon that waxes and wanes and marks months and menses whether you live in Moscow, Idaho, or the other Moscow. It's about what human beings have felt since the dawn of time when we lay on our backs on the ground and looked up at floating clouds or winking, wondrous stars.

Patriotism has always had a lot of the zest of competition in it--rival teams, us and them, Britain's battles being won on the playing fields of Eton, and all that. My country, right or wrong. My country over other countries.

Matriotism, by contrast, recognizes that while there may be six- or seven-score fatherlands, there is only one motherland. Untold political divisions have risen, prospered, and utterly vanished, myriad civilizations and great cities that are no more--too many to count or name. But while we have her, there is only one Mother Earth. And every person alive knows her intimately.

Standing on a grassy meadow in England once, I was told that the same huge old trees I was seeing, the same pitted boulders, the same streambed, had been seen and touched by Normans, by Anglo-Saxons, by Romans, by Stone Age Brits. They had been patriots of many cultures, many states, but children of one earth.

So it's not either-or; it's not a matter of matriotism vs. patriotism. But perhaps it is a matter of bringing our matriotism a little more to the forefront. For instance, we could start with a holiday. A matriotic holiday, a worldwide day of celebration, gratitude, and rededication to the planet. We'd need a flag, of course. There is that Olympic flag with the colored rings, but frankly I can't get very stirred up about what looks like beer-mug rings on a table. But that would do for a starter, until we got something better. And we'd need a song--an anthem, really. Wouldn't it be something to have an international anthem (no, no, not the Internationale) that little kids all over the world would learn to sing, a hymn about the oceans and the mountains and the sands and the snows of Earth? We could certainly work up a pledge of allegiance: "I pledge allegiance to the soil, and to the air we breathe, to every species beneath the sun. . . ." Well, you get the idea.

We'd certainly need a Matriots' Hall of Fame someplace--maybe aboard a ship that would sail from country to country, celebrating the great matriots who toiled to defend Mother Earth, whether by saving the whales and the gorillas and the snail darters, or by engineering new strains of seed that would feed more people per acre, or by finding the keys to practical mass use of solar energy instead of fossil fuels.

Some people might not get too excited about being matriotic, seeing that it lacks that old competitive edge. On the other hand, remember what Pogo said: "We have met the enemy, and they is us." This fight to save Mother Earth could end up being the most glorious battle of all.

And besides: just think what first- and second-graders could do in the way of decorations!

No comments: