Making home feel like home again

There's an old blues song by an artist named Z. Z. Hill that states my case these days: "Home just don't feel like home no doggone more."

Neither does normal.

As I, along with millions of fellow Americans, weigh an uncertain future, small positives continue to bind us together in a way constitutional framers may have intended.

From one community to the next, American flags on lawns, rooftops, and cars are too numerous to count. I have had no luck in finding one single flag on one single store shelf in the last few weeks.

The other night, a long-delayed performance was finally front and center stage. As I watched my youngest in a sea of red-white-and-blue-clad third-graders, tears welled up in my eyes when those precious little faces broke into their finale, "America the Beautiful."

Though they had been working on the patriotic program for a regular PTA meeting long before Sept. 11, there was an appropriate sensitivity and greater appreciation for the lyrics. In between pro-American tunes, the nearly 100 voices rang out as one when future Democrats and Republicans recited from memory something else they had learned. I wasn't the only parent beaming at our Constitution's preamble, which I feel compelled to include here:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

That night, few 8- and 9-year-olds could have known how much such a declaration meant to adults who often struggle to remember any words beyond "We the People." It is yet another tangible positive - our reeducation via the media, school events, church, and state. Even citizens who are normally suspicious of government or politically inactive, are looking to the federal branch for assurance, information, and protection.

For the first time in a lot of American lives, there are those who not only appreciate a steady diet of civics, but also the chance to devour more on other cultures, history, and government.

This is indeed positive news when you consider a 2000 Gallup poll that made me tremble. The test on public knowledge found that 4 in 10 Americans could not name the vice president last year. Half of those surveyed didn't know the US Supreme Court has the final word on whether or not a law is constitutional. Of course, many learned that lesson late last year after the presidential election. In another survey, half of the respondents didn't know there are 100 US Senators in Congress. And while 66 percent of those questioned knew that Regis Philbin was the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" only 6 percent could actually name the Speaker of the House.

I challenge the Gallup organization to repeat those surveys now, on a more enlightened public. A new war, led by our government, has that kind of transforming power. Americans may not see much of Dick Cheney, for security reasons, but they know exactly who he is. I would venture a guess that saturated, necessary coverage has enabled many Americans to even pass multiple tests - on world leaders, Cabinet members, White House staff, FBI and CIA directors, Middle East geography, and terrorism itself.

We may not all agree on how to revive the economy or achieve peace, but water-cooler conversation in schools, malls, homes, and the workplace have turned to issues that matter - life, death, love, strategy, revenge, anthrax. People who have never talked to one another are chatting. We even had a first at my house the other day. Our little neighbor, Quan, also a third-grader at my child's school, was allowed to play over here. His family has lived next door for three years, which leads me to wonder if our cultural backgrounds - Vietnamese and black - kept us apart.

From Albany to Atlanta, proud citizens are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, fortifying homes, hugging children more. There are 5,000 reasons for us to learn our lessons well, so time and space will never erase Sept. 11 from memory.

We the people are powerful enough to make home feel like home again. I have no doubt we will.

Joyce King is a freelance writer.

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