Once upon a time, there was a country called, “Independence.” The citizens of Independence prided themselves on their patriotism, having an appreciation for the long-ago revolution that had liberated them from oppression. The citizens of Independence enjoyed many freedoms, including where to work, where to live, whom to marry, what to say, etc.
Various sporting events often brought the citizens of Independence together, and across the nation, fans packed stadiums and arenas to capacity throughout the year. Every game or match was preceded by the Independence national anthem, which was lively, stirring, and very easy to sing. The men took off their hats, and everyone stood with their hands over their hearts. Well, almost everyone. It was a free country after all.
Realistically, it’s impossible for everyone to be happy about everything, and sometimes, certain citizens of Independence just didn’t feel right putting their hands over their hearts and singing. Now, remember, the national anthem of Independence was rousing and uplifting, so unless a person was gravely unhappy with the country, they’d sing anyhow, even if they couldn’t sing very well. The crowd’s voices were so enthusiastic and thunderous, that even the most tone deaf fit right in.
One day, at a championship game, when everyone got up to sing the national anthem of Independence, one of the players on the field bent down on one knee. Not many people noticed, that is, until an image of the gesture began to appear on the nightly news and on social media. There was an uproar, but many citizens supported the player, because he was protesting an injustice, and he was free to do so.
Within weeks, other players knelt, too. Some were supporting the original matter, but others protested additional issues, such as unfair taxation of the rich, inadequate healthcare, and the electoral college, which had allowed a president to be elected, even though he had not won the popular vote.
Soon, many fans, supporting the players of their favorite teams, tried to kneel, too, but this was difficult in cramped arena seating. So, they began to stand with their backs to the field.
Still other fans, realizing that there were aspects of the government they didn’t like joined in. Some felt strongly about social issues, others wanted more, or less, gun control, and still others did not like the fact that the government allowed corporations to set up headquarters on foreign soil to avoid paying their share of taxes. The list of grievances went on and on.
Soon, rather than almost bringing down the concrete walls of the various venues around the country from the enthusiastic singing of the Independence national anthem, the decibel measurements plunged. Eventually, so many people had opted out, that the ones who still wanted to sing felt self-conscious, and they fell silent, too.
Eventually, at events that had traditionally featured the national anthem, the only person singing was the one whom had been selected for the honor. Then, it became more and more difficult to find vocalists willing to perform to the backs of fans.
A year after the original protest, at the most-popular championship event in the nation, the one that drew the largest crowd, the most television viewers, the most-expensive commercial breaks, and the highest quantity of chicken wings consumed in the living rooms of Independence, something happened—or rather—didn’t.
The crowd cheered wildly as the teams were announced, and the players ran out onto the field.
The coin was tossed.
And play began.
The crowd, which had been poised to turn their backs, was stunned. Where was the singer? Why wasn’t some poor soul performing the national anthem?
The sound of bewildered murmuring substituted the usual cheers and jeers, as the game progressed through its first segment, and each of the teams scored.
But then, sprinkled throughout the thousands of fans in the arena, voices were heard, alone, in pairs, and in small groups. Others joined, and more and more were added, as if someone had started the “wave.” It was the Independence national anthem.
As the song came to an end, someone started it again, and now, even more people joined in. By the third time through, the players on the field had stopped in place, and they were singing, too. On the fourth go-round, it seemed like everyone was singing. Tears flowed down cheeks, hugs were given and received, men slapped each other on the backs, couples kissed, and children jumped up and down.
For days, accounts of the phenomenon played over and over again on the national and global news. Cell phone videos flooded social media. One, which went viral, began with a panoramic view of the crowd and then rested on the face of a young woman, who looked to be of college age, as she belted the last line of the Independence national anthem.
With moist eyes, the young woman looked into the lens and said, “I guess you were right, Ari. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.”