A man should be proud of the place where he lives and live so his place is proud of him... Abraham Lincoln
A few days ago, during the opening ceremonies of the Super Bowl, Gladys Knight sang our national anthem. It was a stunning performance. If that didn't get every body's heart pumping, they better check their pulse!
Listening to her sing, I remembered the 4th of July last year. My wife and I were watching the fireworks display when it came over me how glad I was to be an American. The local fire department had volunteered to put on the fireworks show for us. They were on a grassy knoll about a quarter of a mile from our condominium.
Watching rockets scatter sparks and streamers with a boom! and a sizzle reminded me of another grassy knoll where President Kennedy disappeared with a bang and a sizzle. He had urged us to stop asking what our country could do for us, and start asking what we could do for our country.
His advice brought another memory to mind. I was ten years young, sitting around a campfire in the high Sierras with my father. He seldom said anything to me, but there in the flickering glow of that campfire, he said, "Billy, it's what you do that makes something so, not what you think or believe or say."
Remembering him made me smile. If his life could be boiled down to one sentence, it would be that one. Those word reflect my life, too, but my grin faded to a frown when I realized that I was waving the American flag, drinking American beer, and celebrating my American citizenship but couldn't think of anything I'd done to be an American or anything I'd done for America.
Our Constitution, Bill of Rights and democratic form of government make America a land of opportunity. But I pursued prosperity to be keep beans on the table and a roof over my head, not to be an example for people from other countries of the rights, privileges and freedom they could have if they lived here.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, thousands of Americans enlisted to put Germany and Japan on their knees and Hitler in the ground. But I joined the Army to learn electronics, not to defend democracy and the American way of life. And I didn't have to dodge bullets or shoot anyone. I just drove a truck around Germany repairing Hawk missile sites.
Learning English is the first step toward assimilating yourself into the American way of life. But I learned Spanish to make friends with the Hispanic boys and girls I met in school, not to encourage them to reciprocate by learning English.
Our founding fathers believed property owners would be better citizens because they had a stake in society and were therefore more likely to get involved in the values and issues of the country. But I bought a house to give my wife a home and better living conditions, not to make us better Americans.
Ironically, it was my doubts that I had done anything to be an American, or done anything for my country that helped me embrace the fact that I am an American, and below are ten reasons why I'm glad I am. Perhaps my reasons will help you identify your reasons for being glad you are an American, and for putting patriotism on your list of things that matter.
1 » America is where I learned to work for what I wanted—not beg, borrow or steal it. I was born shortly after the Depression so I recall evenings around the campfire—we lived in an Army tent because we didn't have a house—hearing my parents and their friends recall the suffering of those days. I believed those stories, exaggerated as they may have been, because we were dirt poor ourselves and worked hard to survive.
2 » America is why I'm not poor. I grew up in the Eisenhower Years when America was prospering, so despite hard times I was optimistic about the future. Despite today's hard times, I'm glad I live here, not somewhere else.
3 » America is why I live here, not somewhere else. Despite the gap between the American reality and the American dream, my experience in other countries pales in comparison to my life here. That doesn't mean I'm an isolationist or that patriotism is nationalism, tribalism, or racism. It means that patriots are proud to be Americans living in America—land of the free and home of the brave.
4 » America is where people can overcome the inherent tribalism of human nature and the chasm between rich and poor, blacks and whites, conservatives and liberals.
5 » America is where diversity can be a blessing if people come here to assimilate their skills and values into the evolving American culture—not to establish their own country in the midst of ours. The optimal number of illegal immigrants is zero.
6 » America is where unity has the best chance of not disappearing into zillions of isolated mini-cultures, identity politics and hyphenated American categories. I am not a white-American or a black-American or a Muslim-American man. I am an American. Period!
7 » America is where I can cooperate with other citizens to replace political gridlock with grass-roots action and thereby unite us from the bottom up rather than rely on politicians to unite us from the top down.
8 » America is where we can stop voting the same idiots into office while expecting different results. America is where we can demand accountability. America is where I can disagree with the majority and still be a patriotic, supportive citizen.
9 » America is where I can vote to accept or reject a candidate and tell my representatives to support or oppose legislation.
10 » America is where my representatives make it possible for me to spend less time analyzing politics and more time pursuing happiness and prosperity.
Partners, Pioneers & Patriots
In 1804 President Jefferson gave Lewis and Clark a formidable assignment: explore the frontier west of the Missouri River and find a route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1980 I gave my ten-year old son a difficult assignment: read a book about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and write a 500-word report.
Lewis and Clark took two years to complete their task so I gave my son his summer vacation to write his report. Six weeks later he said, "Here's that report, Dad. I hope you like it." Like it? I was profoundly moved by it. He had explained what he learned from the book and how the Expedition had affected him personally. Where had this young man found the insight and resourcefulness to write such an informative and inspiring report?
Lewis and Clark had a more difficult assignment than the one I gave Andy. But they were young men themselves. Where had they found the courage and motivation to face the wilderness with limited supplies, 18th-century tools and equipment, and only a vague idea of where they were going and how to get there?
They trekked 4,000 miles across rugged terrain enduring physical and emotional challenges most of us will never have to face. And after reaching the Pacific they had to back track those same grueling miles to be home again with their friends and family.
Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to cross America, and they did it without maps, cell phones or fast food restaurants. Writers shouldn't use exclamation points more than once in a lifetime, but I'm breaking that rule for Lewis and Clark—they were partners, pioneers and patriots!
You and I can travel the route they explored without even packing a suitcase because we can buy clothes, supplies and food anywhere along the route and enjoy the comfort and convenience of getting there and back in our own car.
Jefferson's goals for the expedition were political, economic, geographical and scientific. Most Americans back then didn't fully appreciate the significance of the Expedition but you and I can look back and understand that Lewis and Clark made it possible for America to stretch from sea to shining sea.
Writing those words reminds me of a day when I was about the same age as my son was when he wrote his report on Lewis & Clark. My YMCA team and I were standing on a football field listening to a woman singing America the Beautiful. As our coach wiped tears from his eyes, I felt tears in mine. I had just finished reading about Lewis and Clark, and knew they and everyone with them on that Expedition had experienced the same things filling the hearts and minds of everyone on that football field. The Expedition is still a powerful reminder of the natural, expansive beauty of America. It's also a reminder that great things happen when Americans do something for their country because our country has and is doing great things for us.