Randy is a 45 year old construction worker from Berwyn. He wears a scuffed up White Sox hat, torn blue jeans, and an old Hawks jacket that has a stain covering the entire right sleeve.
Randy is standing next to Bruce; a fellow season ticket holder from Lake Bluff. Bruce works at the mercantile exchange in investor relations.
Both are standing and cheering.
Approximately 21,000 fans will be making separate decisions on how to respect the national anthem; these 90 seconds of intensity belted by Jim Cornelison at every Chicago Blackhawks home game.
Many tonight stand and cheer. There are others who just stand, those that salute, and even those who quietly find the entire action repulsive.
They come from different backgrounds, different tax brackets, and different political preferences. The people around me are below:
Stacey is a devout Catholic from Beverly who hates the HHS mandate. She spent the entire day sending e-mails to various congressman and newspapers denouncing the provision. She has been open about her support of Rick Santorum.
Two beers into this evening, she's belting out the words of the anthem through a cracked voice that has been punished from years of cigarettes.
Paul sits in front of me in 325. He's close to 65. Through random conversation over the years, I find out that he protested the Vietnam War at various college campuses and was a high ranking member of the SDS. He's always slow to get up for the anthem. A part of him has always been rebellious. The red stripes on the flag remind him of blood; some shed by friends who never made it back from Southeast Asia.
A couple rows in front of me and to the left sits Barry. He's an older fan. He might be the only person in the building who remembers Harold Mush March's game-winning Stanley Cup goal in 1934. At 18, he served in Europe. He never cheers during the anthem. He always salutes. Nobody dares question the choice.
The people beside me, in front of me, behind me...they all make different choices.
They also have different views on what the song means. They have different views on what the flag truly represents. These are people being pushed away from each other on a daily basis: On talk radio, television, and in our op-ed sections. Those people are motivated to push us further apart. Those people know that 'creating friction' is the 21st century model for a successful political business model.
Yet, for 90 seconds, all of the above mentioned issues go away.
For 90 seconds we stand with different religions, different political affiliations, different life histories, etc. We stand as one country under something. Under God? 90% present would say yes. The other 10 % would say no. But right now, 100% aren't joining the debate society.
For 90 seconds, we're all just cheering this idea that has lasted 236 years. This landmark idea that 'all men are created equal', that we all have the right to pursue happiness, that we're all meant to be free.
It reminds me of what a friend of mine from France told me back in 2001. She said, "You Americans don't understand. You think you're nation IS great. That is all debate. What you are is a great IDEA. The question is when will you embrace the idea instead of celebrating who you are." This was a profound statement for a twenty-something exchange student with little time in our country...but she was dead on.
We all have an idea of who we are as a country...and for 90 seconds, we all get to celebrate in our own individual way; expressing our pride in this odd semi-orchestrated burst of noise. Are we cheering for the past, the present, the future? Or are we celebrating the idea of what we could be?
Looking around this crowd of 21,000, I can't find an answer.
And something tells me I'm not supposed to.