Patriotism

From Obama’s speech:

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That’s my idea of America.

As I got older, that gut instinct – that America is the greatest country on earth – would survive my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections: it’s ongoing racial strife; the perversion of our political system laid bare during the Watergate hearings; the wrenching poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the hills of Appalachia. Not only because, in my mind, the joys of American life and culture, its vitality, its variety and its freedom, always outweighed its imperfections, but because I learned that what makes America great has never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better. I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief – that we could be governed by laws, not men; that we could be equal in the eyes of those laws; that we could be free to say what we want and assemble with whomever we want and worship as we please; that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.

It’s hard to get your arms around an entire country. It’s too big for the easy summations people like the Freepi give it; they draw the circle too small. It’s hard to love them as part of the country you love, but if their pathology is that they can’t accept us as part of them then our grace has to be that we can. At times I wish we could wall them off in their own state and let them have their weird theocracy so they don’t poison everything that allows them to be, but who then would remind us we’ve always got farther to fall? They’re on the fringes, pushing, reminding us that if we’re not careful, look where we’ll end up. Look where we are. I appreciate them for that; it’s easy to start to believe that’s everybody else, but it’s not the case.

It’s hard to get your arms around an entire place that holds so much anger and fear, and when you’re a fighter you think that’s all there is to do, fight, and you start seeing everything in terms of opponents, the problems, the gaps to be filled and the list of tasks yet to be done. I’m not saying take a break, I’m not saying it’s okay to kick back today of all days; in four days Congress is gonna start fucking with the Constitution again and so we’ve all got phones to get on. But I am saying, it’s easy to see all the broken places, and forget that, to paraphrase the great Leonard Cohen, the only reason you can see the breaks at all is from the light shining through them.

And that light for is everyone who ever did something kind for someone else, for the dollar that fed someone its giver never met, for the hand that opened the door to the prison camp, for the feet that marched the picket line, for the cooks in the soup kitchens and the people making beds in the shelters, for the voices answering calls for help in the middle of the night. For the New Deal and the 101st Airborne, the teachers for America and the doctors at the free clinic down the street. For the Spirit of ’76 and the Freedom Riders, the fishermen on the lake at 5 a.m. in the summertime and the construction workers on the Dan Ryan at midnight. For Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy, for the astronauts and the cafeteria workers, for the singers and writers and painters and poets, for my neighbor who gave me matches when our power went out (300 candles in this house, and no matches or lighter) and the cop who comes through our alley and waves to the kids riding bikes and the guy who leaves the house across the street every morning yelling over his shoulder, “I love you, honey!” For you, and you and you and you, you, and you.

The quality of mercy isn’t exclusively ours, of course, but the examples are, and for whatever yours are, I think, we can raise our voices and sing a venerable drunken tavern song:

A.

11 thoughts on “Patriotism

  1. hoppy says:

    Beautiful! Yes, and it brings tears to my eyes.

    Like

  2. lb0313 says:

    Well said A.
    I’ll add a shout out to those who, please God, are going to make my flight home happen on time…
    Home happy dance…

    Like

  3. joejoejoe says:

    Happy Independence Day all!
    [note: you can’t spell America without A! Or Favre. Or Badgers.]

    Like

  4. mdh says:

    My instinct that America is the greatest country on earth has not survived my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections.
    Somewhere near the intersection of Jessica Lynch and Lyndie England I just plain lost respect for my country.
    But there is still hope. I still have my tattered, beaten, singed, and half-drowned hope.

    Like

  5. BuggyQ says:

    What a lovely, lovely post to wake up to. Thank you, A.
    And mdh, I take my hope where I can get it. If Marilyn Musgrave feels the need to pander to her constituents by pushing for drilling in ANWR, that means she’s *running scared*. In one of the reddest districts in a still-pretty-red Colorado. This is a woman who ain’t said shit to her constituents except “no ghai marriage!!!!” since she got elected.
    They’re losing people. It may be for the least noble reasons, but maybe if they’ve lost people for the bad reasons, those people will start to understand the good reasons.

    Like

  6. BuggyQ says:

    On a sillier note, yesterday, there was a car accident in front of our house. A 64-year-old woman who sounded vaguely like Arianna Huffington (tho she didn’t look like her at all) pulled out in front of a light truck and got crunched in her wheel well.
    Nobody was hurt, but she was very upset–her mother-in-law died yesterday, and she’d been distracted, and her husband didn’t need this, etc. So my neighbor and I tried to comfort her as best we could. She seemed to be doing okay when the cops arrived.
    Which is where the silly comes in. She told the cop that part of why she’d been distracted was because she’d seen the Obama sign in my front window and “Don’t these people know what’s going on!?” The clear implication being that whoever put that sign up was wrong, wrong, wrong.
    At which point my neighbor (a lovely woman who brought us brownies the first day we moved in) turned to me and said, “We’re outta here,” and walked away.
    The cantankerous side of me wanted to find out from Arianna-voice exactly what she thought was going on, but the charitable side of me took over and walked me quietly back into the house.
    At which point I called Mr. BuggyQ and told him to go over to the Democratic office a block from his gallery and pick up every bit of Democratic signage he could get his hands on.
    I figure the more distracting I can do on our corner, the better…

    Like

  7. spocko says:

    BuggyQ.
    I’m the kind of person who DOES think of the right thing to say at just the right time. And I often say it.
    Now that you have time to think, what do you wish you said?

    Like

  8. pansypoo says:

    i rather like the muppets youtube version of a patriotic tune. not sure which one it was.

    Like

  9. GentillyGirl says:

    I erased my piece for this Fourth of July because you stated everything I believe.

    Like

  10. BuggyQ says:

    Aw, spocko, I think I did the right thing not saying anything. She’d just had a pretty awful couple of days. My making the perfect comeback wouldn’t have changed her mind, and would have just added to her bad day. Obama doesn’t need her vote that bad.
    BTW, A, if you’re still reading this thread, I finally got to see the first two episodes of John Adams yesterday, and TIVOed the rest. (Thank you HBO for re-running them on such a perfect day!) Yummy. Truly yummy. I really wish I’d remembered to tape them the first time around.

    Like

  11. Ghost of a Dead Nazarene on a Stick says:

    So, just how does onelove a country, anyway? How does one go about it?
    Especially THIS one.
    Please tell me.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: