RFNE Ep. 20 – Umbrella Covers in Maine! 7/2/2012


In today’s podcast, we preview an interview with Nancy 3 Hoffman, founder and curator of the Umbrella Cover Museum on Peaks Island, Maine. I discuss patriotism in this week’s commentary.


It’s early July and that means parades, flags, and fireworks. In short, it’s America’s annual burst of patriotism. Being patriotic means different things in different countries, and even in different eras. In out own time, we are deeply divided between the American soldier, whose patriotism is apparent in his or her service, and the rest of us who must look for ways to express our love for country, if we do so at all.

So, what becomes of us who are not soldiers? The teachers, the artists, accountants, mechanics, janitors and others? Are we doomed to a second-hand patriotism of flag waving and barbequing? If we yearn for something more, we can live by the example of Civil War-era patriot Walt Whitman.

Whitman’s most obvious claim on our memory is as a poet. Most Americans have heard of Whitman thanks to his contributions to the transcendentalist movement and his emphasis on nature. Yet, this intellectual artist knew being American – and being human – was about living in more than one dimension.

During the civil war, Whitman didn’t make himself feel a part of the war through his masterful poetry, he got involved. No, Whitman didn’t take up arms and fight in the army. Like most Americans past and present, he had to support the war effort from home. Whitman chose to volunteer his time and labor as a nurse for the Union army.

As he helped dress wounds and tend to the sick, Whitman kept calm. Only after he left the makeshift hospitals did Whitman allow his feelings to come through. He felt sick, he was horrified by the pain he saw. But, Whitman showed courage – he did not stop his act of healing.

Volunteering – caring for soldiers – was how Whitman expressed his patriotism and his participation in his community. When we look back on the transcendentalist movement, it’s easy to put them in a back-to-nature box and forget the context of their lives. Truth is, when we are in the midst of our daily routines, it’s just as easy to forget the context of our own lives as well.

Where is there need in our local communities? How can we step out of the roles given to us voluntarily, or by our jobs, our families, our friends? Look for the urgent needs around you, and there you can find the chance to be an American.

So, this Independence Day, in the midst of God Bless America at the local parade, and the grilling or traveling that follows, channel Walt Whitman and his challenge to live a full life. Think about his brand of patriotism – choosing to give what others need, not just what we want.

Just a quick programming note – Radio Free New England has been off for a couple of weeks in an effort to retool and recommit to bringing you interviews and reports on our unique New England culture. In the coming weeks, you can expect to hear more New England spotlights, starting this coming Sunday with Nancy Hoffman and the Umbrella Cover Museum, and our contributors will be moving to a once a month report.

So, if you’re looking for what’s happening in our region, and you’d like an audio diary of New England, you can subscribe to our iTunes podcast, download our mobile app, or listen to us on our website, radiofreenewengland.com.

Thank you for listening and Happy Independence Day, this is Radio Free New England with Chris Marot.