When people don't stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner," I get annoyed.
As I do when I hear the flamboyant flourishes with which singers — too often, off-key singers — ostentatiously attempt to reinterpret/redecorate our national anthem.
But so what?
Just because I always stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner," prefer to hear it sung as written, and would never treat it like an audition for The Voice hardly means my fellow citizens ought to be compelled to stand or (heaven forbid) sing as I do. Or that they should be shamed for not doing so.
But judging from the national "conversation" about professional athletes standing or not standing, "taking a knee" or taking a break during the anthem, one might think a law had been passed requiring every citizen to follow — or risk punishment for not following — an officially sanctified script for the proper expression of American patriotism.
A script that citizens are required to follow in, say, Pyongyang. Or, perhaps to a lesser extent in Putin's Russia, from where online trolls seek to stoke and stir up our social-media stew about NFL players taking the knee.
That many of these players are black is said by some white folks to have absolutely nothing to do with their criticism of knee-taking, a debatable assertion, but one that likely enhances the Kremlin's zest to mess with our domestic politics yet again.
All of this raises some questions.
Since when did "The Star-Spangled Banner" turn into a command performance, a musical oath of loyalty, a sacred observance during which anything less than utter enthusiasm shall be monitored, recorded, commented on, and, potentially, censured?
When did the anthem get amended into a hymn for men and women in uniform, as well as first responders, living and dead? Heroes deserve our thanks and our respect, to be sure. But who decreed that not standing for "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an act of disrespect toward them?
And since when is standing and singing the anthem required of those upon whom fortune has smiled and showered talent, wealth, and fame, such as the stars of professional sports?
Who decided that rather than a citizen expressing an opinion, a kneeling athlete is an ungrateful, undeserving, un-American evildoer who must be fined or fired?
Says who? The government? The president?
Who drafts these edicts and then bestows the authority to enforce them not only upon the alleged miscreants, but all of us?
Perhaps the grandees who concoct these behavioral regulations could go beyond merely punishing those who fall short on a scale of anthemic reverence and also reward with raises or prizes those who stand and sing the way we're all (supposedly) supposed to.
And whom will they add next to the list of honorees for whom the anthem must be sung?
Perhaps members of Congress should be added. Or how about newspaper columnists? Or presidents?
I can think of one president who would love his own anthem — and who probably imagines that he deserves it!
But enough fantasy. The reality is that our national anthem has became a national soundtrack on which would-be virtuosos on various sides of a greater and greater divide, often united solely by sanctimony, attempt to out-shout each other.
Standing or not standing while it plays, taking the knee or not taking the knee — these aren't pivotal moments in history.
They are not actions upon which the future of the Republic depend.
They are personal decisions, choices made by free people who are entitled to express their opinions. They — we — are not required by any authority, except our own, to stand or not stand and sing or not sing along to a popular tune.
Or to recite or not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
As I wrote in a column last November about a young man who opted out of the daily classroom pledge in Vineland, students who have what New Jersey school regulations refer to as a "conscientious objection" have a right not to stand, salute, or recite the pledge, as long as they "show full respect" during the exercise.
Like saying the pledge, standing and singing along to "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a tradition. Not a duty enshrined in the Constitution, but a custom, a social convention that has evolved over time and continues to evolve before our eyes (and ears).
So I have no intention of following what seems to me a current fashion among some to make a big show of standing and singing, or of not standing and not singing. With or without taking knees and linking arms.
I'll simply continue to do what I've always done.
I'll keep standing for our national anthem.
I'll put my hand over my heart and even (try to) sing a few bars.
It's my choice.