Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One American

There's that song: "I'm proud to be an American, because at least I know I'm free...."

I really like the music. I'm not so crazy about that line. "At least"? Doesn't he mean something a little more enthusiastic? And - I don't know - does that line mean that "being free" is the only good thing about being an American?

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American recently, especially as I read hyperbole (and actual lies) about the Islamic Community Center being planned blocks away from the World Trade Center, and wonder how it is that the majority of people oppose it (rather than rush to embrace it, glad to show the world that America is about freedom of religion and expression, and inclusion). And maybe that's another reason that line in that song bothers me - it acknowledges the singer's freedom, but not the freedom of those around him. Well yes, freedom for everyone would be implied. Except - well, the line's egocentrism seems to be just a microcosm of a larger view in the United States these days - that it's all about protecting my freedom, and keeping you under control (rather than free as well). At least, that's how it's been feeling around here.

I think of us as a young country - like a country filled with juveniles - enthusiastic, energetic, sometimes idealistic, almost always impatient. I find it hard to imagine being from someplace else. And I'm proud to be from here. But these days, it feels like we are losing our idealism while hanging on to our impatience. It makes sense. It's a scary time. Our impulsivity, as a nation, and especially since the year 2000, has led us into some tough spots. I have compassion for people who react out of fear. But I wish we could regain our idealistic roots.

I think back to 2001 - September 11, and the mornings after - and remember how beloved we were, across the world. It was a crossroads. We could choose to be brought into the fold, or we could choose to circle the wagons. In the end, fear won out over goodwill, and we circled the wagons. Such an image. Can you see it? The majority of the world reaches out to us as we turn inward. I get it. I have compassion for the wagon work. It was a scary time. But it makes me sad, that our collective better halves did not win out that day, and in the days after.

There was a line in an op ed piece the other day: "More and more of the American people are choosing to live in closed circles of collective concurrence..." It's true, isn't it? I know I personally find comfort in the impulse to find like-minded people. It still matters, though, to imagine the other person's point of view. I guess I still believe that, one on one, I can find common ground with virtually anyone - and ultimately that person will be able to see at least a part of the world from my perspective too.

I'm the kind of person who will not say "under God" when saying the pledge of allegiance, out of respect for American atheists, or who will defend in court the person who burns the flag in protest. But I am also the kind of person who looks with pride at that same flag - my flag - as it waves in the wind over a baseball field, as the national anthem plays. I swell with pride, looking at that flag and knowing the ideals that it represents, knowing that I belong to a nation that represents those ideals. Maybe that's why I fit right in here, in America. I am, at heart, an impatient, idealistic, enthusiastic soul.

Sorry. This rambles. But here we are, on the first of September, getting deeper into a recession, with our neighbors losing jobs, and with our juvenile nature kicking into the dirt - in a moment less than optimistic - and I just thought I'd pause and reflect.

One American. A multitude of emotions.

photo credit: melifaire, found here

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