3 July 2015
I love my country. I love it truly, passionately, and deeply, down to the center of my red-white-and-blue bones. I’m unabashedly proud of my rich heritage.
My ancestors first set foot on American soil in the 1640s. They fought as Patriots in the Revolutionary War, and were among the first white settlers to populate the far reaches of our newly-formed nation. In the early 1850s, they lit out for the Upper Mississippi and stayed on to farm those high, blue-green bluffs. The people of my blood trekked from Minnesota to Mississippi to preserve our war-shattered Union. They were heroes at Nashville in 1864. They built bridges across the West during the 1910s. In America my family has multiplied, married immigrants, worked hard, become educated, and generally thrived.
Independence Day is hands down my favorite holiday. I love the buntings, the plain food, the baseball and fireworks, and outdoor games played with family and friends. I love the heat of the sun, and the coolness of crisp red watermelon on my tongue. I love the lack of commercialization, the lack of gift-giving, and the lack of exclusion that mars the joy of most other holidays. July Fourth is that one holiday we can all celebrate, regardless of gender, faith, or status. The ideal of what makes America so very American transcends the cultural conflicts we experience every other day of the year.
Because that’s the crux of it, really. America the Beautiful is only an ideal, a construct of the minds of genius men and women who envisioned a land of liberty and justice for all. They laid out this concept in their Declaration of Independence, and afterward the Constitution, documents which guide us more than two hundred years later. The ideals they espoused have never fully been realized, though we lurch a bit closer with each generation.
Some might say I’m naïve to believe this; the news media and interwebs are bursting with stories of division and hatred. I know, I know. I see the flames and murder and rage. I hear the insults levied with impunity, and the conspiracy theories that hold fragile minds in thrall. Every week in this blog I pen words preaching love and understanding, words that fall on too many deaf ears. The twisting of our founding documents by ignorant pundits saddens my heart; yet patiently, naively, I cling to those ideals.
The strength of our nation comes from great words. Indeed, I believe words, not weapons, are America’s true mortar. I believe words will outlast hatred and ignorance, will neutralize fear of the unknown and corrupted ideas. But as a nation of diverse cultures, we must codify only those tenets which apply to all people, which elevate and celebrate the greater good. For example, although we respect all walks of faith, we must steadfastly refuse to endorse those public policies based on concepts deriving from any one faith.
That’s the beauty of the written American Ideal. In the beginning, we looked to Jefferson to define our “unalienable rights … among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Four score and seven years later, Lincoln reminded us at Gettysburg “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” It took a brutal war and great words to recodify the meaning of liberty but, alas, enlightenment comes slowly to minds easy with privilege. Another century passed, during which “liberty for all” remained more dream than reality. Once again, powerful words stirred the nation back to awareness. Dr. King’s voice rang from the Lincoln Memorial, exhorting us to “refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” and from his devotion to the American Ideal flowed social corrections like the Civil Rights Act.
Since 1964, American freedom has advanced in slow but inexorable trickles, always building on Jefferson’s words. We are far from being a perfect society, as the recent uptick in violence and racial injustice shows, but my belief in the eternal goodness of the American Ideal was lifted by these words from Justice Kennedy:
“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
For these words and others I keep my flag flying every day of the year. For these words I smile at the fireworks overhead and tear up at the singing of our national anthem. For these words my ancestors fought wars and worked hard to give us a better future. Not for hate or division, not for one person’s superiority over another. For liberty and justice for all.
Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
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