Today, the day Americans celebrate this nation’s incorporation as an independent country, there are and will be a lot of fireworks, eat-drink-and-be-merry parties, solemn salutations of admiration and thanks addressed to the people and acts that led to the establishment of America, and “patriotic” speeches of allegiance and fealty to whatever each speaker or audience relishes as the greatest rights and privileges of living in this place. We don’t all agree, not remotely, on which things are Rights and which are merely privileges, never mind which are to be relished. We don’t share a single, singular point of view defining patriotism or our national identity or strengths.
That, in fact, is what I see as one of our greatest strengths. We are a country that prides itself on individualism, if not individuality. And that, in turn, we define differently, each of us. As little as I know about the country I call home, my sense of it says that the name United States suits us well: a collection of wildly, wonderfully, weirdly differing entities—both states and persons—pulled together into one larger whole. It doesn’t homogenize or even blend us. We remain diverse and divergent. And that is the strength that our founders hoped, as I understand it, to cultivate.
We tend to fail, nationally speaking, more than we succeed at this delicate and complex effort. We mess it up pretty (no pun intended) royally both out in the wider world and within our own borders. Often. But there are frequent gleams of starry hope, as well. There are those among us who will stop and truly listen to each other, who will negotiate, counter-propose, parlay, parry, and persist, in the pursuit of better solutions. Those who choose to recognize differences without letting their own beliefs in the matter condemn their fellow citizens as second-class or unworthy.
It’s funny how often many of us Americans get mighty excited, thinking that somebody else is busy trying to impinge on our personal Freedoms (apparently we are historically hysterical when it comes to that) merely by valuing different aspects of the legal freedoms we all enjoy here or by wanting an equal share of the same ones; we’re past masters, too, at howling injustice over others’ intolerant narrow-mindedness, which of course translates directly as “any thinking, belief, or experience different from mine” and thus is equally self-definition, should we think through it carefully. We each obsess over how to make the rest of the nation see our individual points of view as the simple and clear logic they embody, and as the obvious morally and ethically correct way to think, live, and be, whether any of our own choices and decisions are in truth logical, moral, or ethical, let alone demonstrably so. But that difference, too, is part and parcel of the multifarious and colorful country we call home and of its hard-won foundational tenets.
So while I spend the Fourth of July, like any other day, in mindful and slightly irritable worry over all that could and perhaps should be better about my native country, not to mention about me as one of its inhabitants, I also cling to the hope and optimism that continue to reside here. People are still kind to each other, from holding open doors to donating large quantities of time and other resources to the health, education, safety, and well-being of others, and more importantly, some even do this without requiring that their beneficiaries support and adhere strictly to the donors’ worldview. That, to me, is a great assurance that this nation does still hold dear some of the essential characteristics on which it was founded, even if with a noticeable amount of ignorant hubris stomping on the extant good on this new shore. We remain flawed and selfish and foolish, each in our own ways, but for the most part, this is also a country full of people who, through hard work and goodwill and the desire to fulfill the promise of our forebears, native-born and otherwise, mean to keep becoming better.
May this better part of each of us become a great banner of Peace, Justice, and Hope. May the winds of the future send it curling around those who are in need of the wealth with which we, corporately, are gifted, and give them not only enough resources and courage to be lifted up but a share of that same peace, justice, and hope. And long, long may that banner wave.