It’s 9PM on July 4th. My son is running up and down the street with my husband, watching our neighbors set off illegal fireworks while my daughter sleeps next to me on the couch, passed out fully naked in front of Nick Jr. because 12 straight hours of hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies and swimming exhausted her to the point where not even a brand-new episode of Paw Patrol could keep her eyes open.
I thought a lot about America today. I had a client who wanted me to post about what makes me proud to be an American, and it took me awhile to answer. I didn’t even know if I wanted to answer the question, because when I think about my country, “pride” isn’t the first word that comes to mind at the moment.
Then I got to thinking about the first time I was embarrassed to say I was American. George W. Bush was president, and I was doing a semester at University College London. I wanted to hide my face in my hands every time someone said the President’s name. Sometimes I just told people I was from Canada, so they didn’t automatically assume I was a jerk.
(Sidenote: Who would have ever thought I’d look back on the George W. years with such nostalgia? I actually miss him.)
And now this is where we are. The fate of our country – for the next three and a half years, at least – lies in the hands of a man who cannot restrain himself from engaging in battles so childish that they would demean a middle-schooler.
I think it’s safe to say that I am horrified by the state of our country. I am an optimist, and I do believe that all of this will work out in the end – at the very least, the left is being forced to confront the ways in which they have failed, and will hopefully start doing a hell of a lot better – but right now? Right now I am piloting my car through the McDonald’s drive-in and trying to explain to my son what World War III would look like; why he will be safe even if it begins. He asks me if I would die if it would save him. I say there is nothing I wouldn’t do to save him, and repeat again that he is safe. I am googling phrases like “can a nuclear missile land in California.” There are at least three moments in each day when my chest feels like it’s stuck in a vise, all of the blood being squeezed from my heart.
But still: when I think back on those months when I traveled our world, either lying (“I’m Canadian!”) or apologizing (“I’m disgusted by us too!”) to everyone I met, I realize it’s different now.
I used to be embarrassed to be an American. Now, I am not.
Because way back when I was traveling around Europe and apologizing over and over for President Bush, what I was really doing was apologizing for my own lethargy, for the apoliticism that grew out of a youth spent in a little bubble of privilege where everything seemed more or less okay. I was trying to say I was sorry for not having known better, or tried harder.
I am still embarrassed that I was so comfortable in my own pocket of the world that I didn’t spend even a second thinking about what might be going on elsewhere. But that is my own flaw; not my country’s.
I am so proud of America. I am so proud to be American. And now more so than ever, because over these past few months I have watched my friends scrawl words that they believe in onto pieces of poster board, and walk through the streets to make sure they’re heard. I’ve lifted my daughter onto my shoulders, taught her how to use her big voice to make things right, and watched our son realize that he can make change happen.
I heard the word “patriotism” thrown about when I was a kid, and it always made me roll my eyes. Who cares, right?
I am a patriot. And I care. I am proud of my country, and I am certain that we’ll find our way through this, and come out stronger. Because we’re Americans, and that’s what we do.