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I attended the candlelight vigil in Niagara Square along with 50,000 other Western New Yorkers. We gathered to honor the victims of the heinous attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and to show our support for the rescuers and our leaders during this crisis. As a plane flew overhead, thousands cast their eyes upward with a bit of apprehension. The square was a sea of red, white and blue. As the ceremony began, our eyes followed a flock of white doves as they circled City Hall, airborne symbols of peace. Candles were lit, songs were sung and prayers were said.

There were a few there who seemed exhilarated, almost happy, about the prospect of a long and bloody war. One individual, perched high on the fountain, bellowed belligerently throughout the vigil.

I knew what my dad would have thought about that. My father was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II, serving in Belgium and England. Dad's brand of patriotism was quiet and unpretentious. Although he would get misty-eyed at the flag going by in a parade, he seldom talked of his Army experiences, except to teach us some of the songs he used to sing with his unit. He expressed distaste for those who glorified war, but there was never any doubt that he loved his country. Dad taught me, by his attitudes and the way he lived his life, a lot about patriotism.

This is what I believe patriotism is:

Every American should feel obligated to know what is going on in the world. We live in an increasingly complex global community, and it is our duty to learn as much as we can about America's role in international affairs.

It is our patriotic duty to vote in every election: primary, school board and general elections.

We should be involved in our communities through civic engagement and meaningful volunteer work. Let's not stay isolated in our houses living vicariously through the TV.

We should continue to celebrate the contributions of immigrants. America has been a magnet for people around the world seeking a better life since its inception.

Americans have a right, even a duty, to disagree with their government if they think it is doing something wrong. We have numerous nonviolent and legal ways to make our opinions known.

All of us have an obligation to ensure the future of our nation by supporting quality education for all children -- even those of us who are not parents.

Patriotism is civility, a sense of fair play and respect for others of all races, cultures and viewpoints.

Patriotism is not:

America: love it or leave it.

Harassment of individuals based on their skin color and national origin.

Only for the politically conservative. Americans of all political persuasions love their country. Even liberals, like me.

Exclusively Christian. America was founded on religious freedom, and that means all religions, including the freedom not to practice religion.

Bellicose statements like the one I heard on talk radio the other day, "Osama bin Laden's ass is grass, and I'm the lawn mower!" The victims of this tragedy deserve a more thoughtful response than World Wrestling Federation-style ranting.

Questioning the patriotism of others who disagree with you. This is especially true for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Just cut it out.

I put my flag out this week. It's comforting to see all the American flags flapping in the breeze, displayed by people of all races, cultures, lifestyles and political persuasions. For the moment, people are putting aside their differences and working toward a common goal. Dad would have said it's the patriotic thing to do.

SUSAN CLEMENTS lives in Buffalo.
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