Today we wave the American flag. It’s what our tribe does, and it feels good to celebrate all the goodness that America is. What we sacrificed in World War II is probably the most shining, unforgettable example. And the value we place on the freedom of speech is still winning out against those trying to curb it from both the far right and far left and it gives me a feeling of being fortunate to be born here, in the USA.
And yet, for me to be ME, I can’t just indulge in wearing the (admittedly bad-ass) stars and stripes without some serious questioning of what it all means. I shudder when I hear the words “love it or leave it” because I don’t even know what that means to love an institution. Gratitude, privilege, and a feeling of being fortunate are what comes up for me in reflection on being American. But love; love is something that I have for people. So yes, I love and feel connected to American people because I love people. Does loving America mean I have to love Americans more than Canadians or Mexicans? Must I profess to value the lives of Americans more than those of other countries, to, in effect, say they are worth more? I get confused here at a philosophical level.
America protects me. Our military protects me, and I am grateful for that safety and protection. For the people who were wounded and died giving me that protection, I have profound respect and admiration. They are the tribal warriors protecting the tribe, and it’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years. And in return for that protection, am I obligated to feel a particular way that puts America as a concept and a body of people “First” when I feel into my own humanity? I will pay my taxes, I will be a peaceful member of society, and I will be damn grateful that I was born in a country that values personal freedom, where I was able to make my own path in life with some planning and work.
“I love America” feels good to say, today, though, does it not? Love is a shorter, simpler word to say than gratitude or connectedness. It sums up a lot of things, but it hides a lot of things, too. It hides our history and what was done to Africans and native people for hundreds of years. Is it wrong to feel the sadness of being and American along with the joy? Is it wrong to acknowledge the complexity of our history and our current political state? If I am truly going to be me, I have to acknowledge all of it.
So happy birthday, America. I just want you to know there’s a whole lot going on for me under the hood of this Ford Mustang with the stars and stripes painted on the doors.