Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patriotic Thaw

Create your own country? Who thinks they can create their own country? I don't have the kind of hubris or creativity that would let me consider seriously the idea of throwing in the towel in my native land and just starting my own republic.

This Independence Day I've been thinking much more gratefully about the events that led the European settlers to travel across an ocean to begin the process of starting the nation that is, for better or worse, my home country.

Like a good progressive Democrat, with a dash of hippie thrown in, I've spent much of my adulthood feeling more ashamed than proud of being an American. What contributes to this shame? The perception that we're the bullies on the international playground, we consume more than our share of the world's resources, we are xenophobes who don't respect differences among people, and we hoard more wealth than people of other nationalities. This ethos of shame has only been cemented by experiences like the time, during the presidency of the second Mr. Bush, a cranky European yelled at me for being a loud American while I was traveling on a French train.

I've been surprised, in the lead up to this Independence Day weekend, by feelings of patriotism popping up at unexpected times. Observing homeless vets begging for spare change from passers-by in downtown Boston, cruising past Adams National Park in nearby Quincy, MA on my to and from work, looking at the rather unimpressive Plymouth Rock on a weekend excursion, watching fireworks while mindlessly humming the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner," and stopping to watch local firemen hang a large American flag across an intersection the night before the big parade. In these and other activities what I'm feeling is a sense of timeless and single-minded hopefulness, expansive possibility, and chutzpah. The strength of character or depth of pain one needs to feel to travel by ship across an ocean, or by wagon across a prairie, to settle a new land inspires me. I yearn for the intellectual excitement and repartee of writing a brand new national constitution, one that could become the model for many young republics follow. I want to create something brand new that makes a positive difference in my life, and the lives of the people who come after me.

I am certain this patriotism is partly inspired by the work of President Barack Obama. I'm not a Pollyanna however, I work for a local government and I know firsthand our system of government has flaws. That's because our nation, like all nations, is run by human beings. I'm sure the Iroquois chieftains fought amongst themselves, and Mayan peoples engaged in nation building and underhanded political acts for their personal benefit. (Europeans wiped out many native peoples as the Americas were colonized, which is crappy. But said native peoples weren't any better than we are.)

What I do know, this July 4, 2010, is that the values and experiences - the hope, the possibility, the hardship - that have shaped this nation have different meaning to me today. When I look at our flag, with its 50 stars and 13 red and white stripes, I feel an appreciation for the chutzpah it takes to declare independence from a nation or set of ideals, and for the on-going struggle to sustain and adapt these new ideals in an evolving culture. With my eyes wide open to the realities of our nation's flaws and strengths, today I feel proud to be an American.

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