A buzz word these days. The concept is sure to spark a conversation, or perhaps simply a stirring in your stomach because the challenges now facing America have a lot of ‘not quite rights’. Maybe this post will piss you off, start an argument, make you throw your expensive mobile phone to the floor. Or maybe you’ll scratch your head, nod along, and think hmm. I’m hoping for the later.
I’m not one to consider myself overly patriotic. The red, white, and blue is something I respect, certainly, yet I haven’t given much thought to what it means to be an American. I’ve taken freedom for granted. I’ve been angry with our government, our culture and the unspoken rules in which we operate. I have a degree in Sociology and I’ve been trained to look for the gaps in equality. I see the ways systems benefit some while leaving others out. I know I have immense privilege, but I’m not exempt from feeling that our culture counts my skills and potential as less than because of my gender. We live in the grey where ‘isms’ overlap causing pain and confusion.
Patriotism is not simple – it can be a loaded word. I wave a yellow flag of friendship (is that symbolism wrong?) and say hang with me here. This America stuff can be tough but let’s dialogue together. As with all things – God, faith, country – I just have a lot of questions.
The New York Times released an article last week called “A Patriotic Fourth: What Does That Mean Now?” and these shared perspectives got me thinking. Journalists stationed themselves across the country and asked travelers what the holiday means for them. Many ages, many backgrounds, many perspectives of the real America presented by those journalists – not just the ones we glamorize or relate to.
What is it I feel about our nation, our land, our challenges? Big, beautiful, important questions that are hard to answer in one blog post.
Cataloguing my swirling thoughts I’ve made a list of the reasons I’m thankful and proud to be an American. For every bullet point listed below, there could be thousands of ‘buts’ that follow. Take a moment to let each statement to sink in before we go contesting and looking for the negative. Yes, my friends, there are paradoxes. The ‘buts’ exist, yet so does the beginning of these thoughts.
- I can share my heart freely on the internet for the whole world wide web to see. Freedom of speech is a powerful thing.
- Our land is immensely beautiful. The Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, coastlines, prairies, and fields of sunflowers. Giant forests and desert cactuses. We have something to enjoy in creation.
- People can wear our colors proudly. Classy they may not be, but we have flag pants, and bro-tanks, and shorty shorts, and swimsuits and jackets and hats that boast our colors. We are allowed to indulge in the wearing of the red, white, and blue. We can share our pride on our shoulders – literally.
- I have access to clean water, healthy food, and supportive community. I haven’t seen war on my doorstep.
- I have been given the opportunity to work and to write.
- Green chili. Sushi. Naan. Spring Rolls. Exposure to different cultures through the reality of the ‘melting pot’ has brought me delightful experiences with food. Sorry folks, but I’m not sure the hot dog is something to be proud of on a culinary scale.
- Creativity and innovation. Mix those with access to resources and we have technology that holds so much power. Channel music, painting, writing, and poetry with passion and make humanity weep happy tears. Variety in creative expression remains of utmost importance.
We aren’t perfect, but there is good here in the United States. Coming up with a list that doesn’t cause anger or leave people out is immensely challenging.
My family spent the 4th of July hiking in open space just a half-hour away from our house. The sun beat down on our necks, and sweat dripped underneath t-shirts. Wild flowers grazed my ankles and dirt came home with me on my calves. We ate lunch at a small business in a smaller town outside my bigger city. Locals slinging pie and sandwiches out of an old gas station. I sipped on an iced vanilla latte (of course) out of a disposable plastic cup.
We went to a bigger outdoor store, still local, and searched for flip flops to wear – hundreds of choices that symbolize abundance at our fingertips. We went to a bigger box outdoor store and joked that we don’t actually spend time outside on days off, but instead wander around gear stores and buy a bunch of outdoor gear that sits in our garage (another, more embarrassing American trait). We came home and showered in clean water and fell asleep on the couch. Rest is revolutionary.
We ate a dinner of avocado toast with salmon – hot dogs be damned – and when it came time to decide about fireworks, this year we passed. Riding bikes to the park and fighting crowds felt too hard. Freedom in opting out.
Dylan got out our ladder and we climbed up on our roof. Well he climbed, I slowly crawled as my heart pounded in my chest. I decided I hate going on the roof. We tried to watch the city’s fireworks from our own home (a beautiful gift – homeownership) and saw bursts of color through our neighbors trees.
Since the big fireworks display was hard to see, I directed my attention to the young family across the street. A dad and his son, probably five or six, were lighting little fireworks off in the driveway. Whirring light mixed with cracking, sizzling flames lasted thirty seconds at most. The boy was delighted with each repetition – light, boom, repeat. Down the street another set of children lazily grasped sparklers in their sweaty palms. Circling the sticks of fire into the dark, the wands produced smiles on these kids faces, and a tickle of joy in my stomach. Time moved slowly up on the roof.
I climbed down the ladder with an ache in my heart, missing my dad and the summers he was with us. Standing with shaking feet on our deck, I sent a wish his way.
One story of an American holiday. One little piece of the pie.
Being American can mean so many things. It is messy, painful, zealous and enticing at the same time. Sitting of the roof helped me remember to be thankful for the freedoms we are given. To bless with a kiss the multitudes of beauty we can choose to embrace.