The flags of my country and the Commonwealth I live in were blowing as nearly perfect rectangles against a background of sprinkle carrying stratocumulus. While my audio was processing the “Star Spangled Banner” as performed by a Fitchburg State College coed, the rest of my mind hobbled through an obstacle course of conflict.

In the recent past, fictional WMD’s leading to a real war, torture tales and the sickening greed of the entitled in this country have seriously challenged my faith in America as a “shining city on a hill.” Yesterday, however, the love scenes shone everywhere on an otherwise grey day. As announcements were read, a woman of my vintage signed them to a young boy in the stands. Wheelchairs were propelled by smiles. Many Fitchburg State College volunteers chatted with the athletes, offering praise and encouragement. The SpEd teachers organized and led their kids from event to event. Parents smiled. Some cried. One young man, upon seeing his mother and sister across the track, breached it to hug them just as a race was beginning. Nobody cared. The Special Olympics is about belonging more than competing and nobody lost anything. Everybody gained. Seeing the wonder in my son as he gazed at his medals is a moment I’ll never forget.

As the flag stood still I calculated all the love and effort expended to take care of special needs children, especially in this bluest of states, Massachusetts. I wondered with doubt, if most other countries took care of these “troubled and afflicted” the way we do. I briefly thought if red-states do. It hasn’t always been this way. An elderly family acquaintance once coldly uttered, “In my day, we used to put kids like Kyle away.” Thankfully, that day is past. It’s called progress, and seeing it on display yesterday instilled some much needed optimism in me about who we are.

“A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and–above all–responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill.”

Ronald Reagan, announcing his candidacy for President of the United States at the New York Hilton, New York, NY on November 13, 1979