The Forty-Fourth Letter: I’m Still Patriotic

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Dear Daughters,

A half dozen years ago or so, I received a phone call from a federal agent because a friend of mine worked for the government and needed security clearance. The government was looking into her history, which had involved much time spent overseas, and so the agent wanted to ask longterm friends about her. I was happy to chat with him because my friend is top-notch: brilliant, amazing, compassionate, and talented.

In the midst of our long conversation–it was a lot more thorough than I had expected it to be–the agent asked if I would use the word “patriotic” to describe my friend. Patriotic.

“They asked me if you were patriotic,” I told her later.

“They did?” she asked me. “What did you tell them?”

It’s such a strange thing to evaluate about someone else.

Because my birthday is just before Independence Day, I’ve always had a soft spot for fireworks and the red-white-and-blue combination of colors.

Whenever I’m in an airport going through customs, I feel a little twinge of pride to be able to queue up in the “U.S. Passport Holder” line.

My grandfather was a 101st Airborne paratrooper in World War II, and he earned a Bronze Star for defending a bridge with a bazooka. By himself.

I was raised in a family that votes, and I vote.

As a kid, we went on myriad Washington DC daytrips from central Pennsylvania and saw the famous monuments, went to the Smithsonian Museums. I remember my dad lifting a woman up so she could trace someone’s name from the Vietnam War Memorial.

I remember singing “Danny Boy” as part of our high school honors choir concert at a local church for Veterans Day.

I never had a problem saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school. I was, however, less than thrilled with my fellow students who not only did not say the Pledge but refused even to stand.

Here’s a random side note: because our high school principal, who led us in the Pledge over the loud speaker every morning, didn’t pause after “nation” in the typical way of most Americans (“one nation [pause] under God [pause] indivisible [pause]….”) and instead said “onenationunderGod” quickly, I still say it differently than most people.

 

Though I don’t come across as very political, these days, I’ll confess I’m still sentimental about songs like “Proud to Be an American.” My Uncle Larry always sang it back when we were part of the Family Circle, our family’s traveling gospel group.

The thing is, I am proud to be an American.

The other thing is, I think Americans get a lot of things wrong.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not patriotic, not a good citizen.

I am patriotic.

And I’m a political moderate. At least, I assume I am a moderate because about half of what I hear from one side sounds crazy and about half of what I hear from the other side sounds crazy.

To listen to the news, you wouldn’t think that I exist. You’d think there were only extreme views of conservative or liberal. I even hear this among my friends who feel strongly about politics, by the way. Everything is us versus them.

I don’t know what happened to an America that allowed for a diversity of voices, but it’s not today’s America as far as I can tell.

Girls, there is a lot of unpleasantness in the political news cycle these days.

That’s the understatement of the year, by the way.

Many months of political campaigning has culminated in the Republican National Convention this past week. The Democrats will have theirs next week. The upcoming fall is guaranteed to be nasty and cruel. We’ve succeeded in choosing two of the most polarizing candidates in American history. So many accusations. So much hostility.

So much unhappiness.

 

I’m tempted toward fear and anger sometimes, embarrassment sometimes, sometimes just paralysis because a remedy seems impossible.

But then I hear the preschooler recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which I’ll confess it had never crossed my mind to teach you. You learned it last fall at your twice-weekly preschool at a local Baptist church. You pause after the “one nation” like all good little Americans do. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

And then at the end, right after “justice for all,” you raise your voice and begin singing.

AMEEEEEEERICA, AMEEEEEERICA,

God shed his grace on theeeeeee,

and crowned thy gooooood

with br00000otherhood from sea to SHINING SEA!

 

And in the in the midst of that off-key loveliness–especially since for many months you sang “motherhood” instead of “brotherhood”–how can I not be patriotic?

How can I not think about my grandfather risking his life with his bazooka poised to take out a tank singlehandedly? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not think of the woman on my dad’s shoulders, tracing a loved one’s name? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not remember the Lincoln and Washington Monuments, the Smithsonians? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not hear Uncle Larry singing “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free”? How can I not be grateful?

I am patriotic. I am a political moderate. And I know that the double stroller doesn’t fit through the door of our polling location–because I vote.

But I always give you the sticker.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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