My fellow Americans, I have a confession to make. Quite by accident, I realized I may have actually offended a large group of people Monday morning…while the National Anthem played…at a Veterans Day Assembly.
It was just one of those situations in which one makes a potentially bigger mess while trying to be considerate — like holding the door open for someone, only to realize you hit someone on the other side squarely on the nose.
My first stop Monday was the Okoboji Elementary School. I sized up the gymnasium like I would any space — looking for the best angles, testing the lighting and adjusting the settings on my camera. All went well. We stood, we sang along with a recording of the National Anthem, said the pledge of allegiance and thanked the members of the Milford American Legion who were there. I even got some pretty good shots.
Later that morning, it was much the same at Okoboji High School. I know that auditorium much better. I know the best spot to shoot from is generally inside the curve of either of the two ramps connected to the stage. It's close enough that you can get profiles. You get eye contact. You get expression, but you aren't so far forward that you're a distraction to the entire assembly.
This time I may have been, though.
A group of students started to take the stage from behind me but, being that they were going up the ramp and I was off to the side on the auditorium floor, I figured my usual spot would be ideal to take some photos of the group as they did whatever they were going to do — bear in mind, I just came from an assembly in which the students recited a choral reading of patriotic poems. But, rather than taking the stage, the line of high school students stopped on the ramp directly in front of me.
I had become a distraction.
A bearded red-head in a black pea coat who is loaded down by a camera with a zoom lens, a camera bag and a satchel full of every journalistic tool one needs to cover Dickinson County is not what you want to look at during an assembly. So I knelt down to keep out of sight.
Then came the embarrassment.
A staff member in the front row raised both her hands, and it suddenly dawned on me this was a choir. The terrible thought echoed through the apparently empty space between my ears, 'They're going to sing the National Anthem, and you're taking a knee, you idiot!'
Too late. They started. At that point, my options were few. If I'd have stood up, I'd be blocking the choir again. If I would have made for a row farther back, I'd literally have been turning my back on the flag during the national anthem and walking away. So, being the smooth operator I've never been, I awkwardly planted both feet on the ground, kept myself off the carpet but not to the extent that I was truly standing, all while keeping my hand on my heart. I'll tell you, "The Star Spangled Banner" isn't that long of a song, but it felt like an eternity. Afterward, I shook the hands of the speakers and Legion members, so I was sure to apologize for my absent-minded behavior. Thankfully, the Legion commander told me they have to play certain parts of the assemblies by ear and all was well.
Truth be told, I wanted to leave it at that. The Legion knew I didn't mean anything by it, but it wasn't just the Legion who was there. Students were there. Staff was there. Area residents intent on honoring their local veterans were there. They probably all saw me. A lot of them don't know me. It wouldn't take much for folks to get the wrong idea about what I was doing.
Embarrassing as it was, I decided this is a story I need to tell. As I've said before, the relationship between a local paper and the community is largely based on trust. A community can't trust a writer who doesn't admit when something was wrong. I made a mistake — unintentional, but a mistake nonetheless. So, I want to be upfront with the people to whom I'm accountable — you, the readers. I want to admit this mistake and ask for your forgiveness, because I guarantee will make other mistakes. I will at some point spell someone's name wrong. I will at some point mistype a date. I will at some point write about the Dickinson County Planning and Zoning Commission when I'm actually referring to the Dickinson County Board of Adjustment.
Actually, I've done all those things. I've done those things because I'm human, just like every reader and even some of my nonreaders. But I can't expect the public's trust, if I won't apologize for my own faults.
Dickinson County, you have my apologies. I hope you can forgive me and we can still be friends.