Growing Up Patriotic
When I was eleven, my family lived in Hampton, Virginia. My father was a major in the Air Force, stationed at Langley Air Force Base. I came into the kitchen one afternoon to find my mother at the sink, her shoulders bobbing slightly from her sobs, her head hung over her work of peeling carrots. In the background, from the old stained Bakelite radio on the counter, the strains of God Bless America were playing.
I was stunned to have crashed this intimate and moving scene. I was speechless as my mother turned to reassure me. “I always get emotional when I hear this song,” she said. Being in a military family, around this anthem a lot, I wondered why I never knew this about her. My mother was pretty reserved, so to see this side of her was huge. I appreciated being a part of this touching moment. It pierced my heart with a lasting memory of her patriotism and love of country. To this day, I get emotional when I hear that song or the Star Spangled Banner, whether it’s because of patriotism or because it reminds me of an infrequently occurring tender moment from my childhood.
Webster’s defines patriotism as “love or devotion to one’s country.” I certainly feel this toward my country. We’ve always been the most free and democratic nation in the world. We’ve been the greatest super power and the country that offers the most to people from anywhere else who might be seeking a safe haven. But that is changing. Trying times — both economically and politically — have altered that generosity; hopefully this shift won’t be permanent.
I’m thrilled to have been old enough to appreciate JFK’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He and his brothers contributed significantly to bolstering patriotism at home. Their words and deeds could make us believe in ourselves and in each other. I often wonder how our love of America might have been enhanced by his son’s participation in the political arena.
In Other Countries
This post isn’t about politics, however. It’s about taking stock of our lives here in this land. Traveling outside the US places our lives in sharp contrast to other nations with little of the resources we take for granted. A trip to Bali hit home about the fact that people don’t need a lot of stuff to be content, to be proud, to be devoted. I can say unequivocally that I have never met a kinder or more generous people who smile genuinely and welcome our larger than life presence in their country. These are people without many traffic lights or lanes, no requirements to not smoke in certain areas, no myriad rules and laws to keep their personal space intact. When a funeral procession of many Balinese on foot takes over both lanes of the road, people stop and wait — they wait as long as necessary without complaint. This happened to me while I was there, and we waited over 45 minutes. No one honked or yelled outside car windows or tried to zip through the procession to be on their way. These are people who value highly their spirituality, their strong sense of karma, sincerely believing they do right by themselves and their country by doing good in the world.
We Can Always Learn From Others
Seeing the ways others are in the world heightens my sense of patriotism. I am proud to be an American when we use nearly unlimited resources to free a kitten trapped in a well. But learning from people in other countries also reminds me to let go of some feckless behavior and put the well-being of others ahead of my own. We can always improve the way we are in our immediate family and circle of friends, and opening our arms wider to embrace the qualities of those who are different from us can bring greater job, humility and patriotism. This is how I celebrate the American way.