"When I Tell You I Love America"
When I tell you I love America, I am not speaking out of anger, blindness, or fear. I am not chanting with my fist raised, foolhardy and blazing, pumped full of populist rage.
When I tell you I love America, I am not claiming perfection, holiness, or even goodness. I am not denying that the blood of innocent men and women was sometimes spilled needlessly into this soil or into the soil of other continents--blood that secured ease and power for the comfortable and the mighty.
When I tell you that I love America, I am not embracing revisionist rhetoric that tries to turn founders of flesh into gods. The best of men are only ever men of dust who must learn to kneel before what is better still.
If I say that America is the best country in the world, I say this like I would say that my father is the best father on the planet. You will know I'm making a statement of deep and personal gratitude. You will know that I am speaking of a devotion grown in proximity and from loyality that comes from familiarity.
You will wink and say, "You can't have the best father because I do," and I won't stop the conversation to draw up a protest sign to shove in your face but wink back and say, "Aren't we the luckiest two to have each had the best father in the world?"
We will let the paradox stand.
When I tell you that my earthly citizenship is dear to me, I am not denying that my eternal citizenship is dearer still. I am a patriot like I am a lover of my husband, for my devotion to him is a foreshadowing of a deepest love reserved for a heavenly Bridegroom.
If I tell you I love my fellow Americans, that I am devoted to my kin both past and present, I say that like I would tell you that the two dearest neighbors in the state are found on my street on those two houses. Then I will tell you about how Mrs. Watkins makes the very same pecan pie that LadyBird Johnson once made, but that she adds one teaspoon of vinegar, which makes all the difference. And I will tell you about the fresh figs that grow in her back yard.
You can say, "But Canada!" and I will tease you about the poutine. Then we can share our stories and try to convince one another of the rich wealth of our beginnings, and I will bring up how the tickle weeds bend in the August breezes here, and how the frogs sound late in the night down by the pond, and our rhetoric will rise and fall while the milk and honey drips off our tongues, and we each will be the luckiest two citizens in all the world, each smitten with the homeland we were given.
And when I sing my national anthem and my heart beats wildly, that will be because I remember being a child and sitting in front of a kitchen table full of marked postage stamps, my legs swinging crossed at the ankles, learning to spell out Granada, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Kenya, Vietnam, Poland, tracing them all out on a map, then finding my own... this one was my home, the United States of America.
I remember the burden I felt on Nixon's resignation, my mother waking me up with a grave look on her face and saying, "You are only two-and-a-half, but you must remember this day all your life. When great men in this country do bad things, we have a good laws in this land to protect us from them."
I remember being a fiery young woman in a home where my mother kept a quote from Benjamin Franklin on the refrigerator. "Give me 26 lead soldiers, and I will conquer the world." I read that quote every day of my life, every single day, and I believed it. I knew that my words mattered because this blessed, broken land gave me the freedom to roar.
The American dream was always for me a dream of sacrifice. A dream of recognizing what had been invested in me, a dream of investing in others, a dream of compounded interest, a dream of liberty magnified, a dream of leaving a place better than you had found it when you had arrived.
And when I sang "God, Bless America" I never once thought that I was asking for God to make my nation wealthy so that it could be proud. It was always a gentle prayer for me, a prayer that we might be grateful, a prayer that we might grow in holiness and service to a world in need.
So on this eve of July Fourth, I find myself sitting alone in a quiet room, my two hands cupped in bittersweet devotion around the small flame of that same love.
Strange fires have been burning of late, old names twisted, faithful landmarks reassigned. But I remember America, the America I loved. I love that nation still.
I love her now like I might love a rebellious child storming through a gangly teenage phase, hard headed and reckless. She drives too fast, and she wears too much makeup--those dumb false eyelashes--that horrid music blasting from her room. I don't like her boyfriend. I don't like her attitude. What a headache. When will this be over?
But she is mine. So I will tend her. And I will correct her. And I will see what she might be in the end, praying over her at night while she sleeps, as her eyes flicker in dreams that soothe my mother's heart. ("She is still in there somewhere!") And I will pray, "God, Bless America" like a mother begs the Shepherd to chase His lost sheep.