Friday, December 28, 2012
It's a pride thing.
This country is home to some of the most generous, caring, and wonderful people on the planet. We have first responders who run into burning homes and buildings to save those inside. We have police who surround bad people and protect those who are innocent. This country is full of doctors and nurses who stay awake long past when their bodies say to sleep in order to care for our sick, our elderly, our dying and our new babies coming into the world. There are teachers in every school who not only "put up" with our ever-more medicated, over stressed, over and under privileged children who are at once entitled and deserving. Teachers who throw themselves in front of danger while still teaching each and every individual child to the best of their ability and with whatever resources the community has deigned to be "enough" to do the job. And we have many in this nation who will chip in when they have nothing to give. They will give their time, their blood, their craft, their money, their belongings...to anyone in need. I am so proud of our military, who do good things beyond blowing things up and shooting insurgents. I am proud of the souls who believe that our mighty national hand should help build others up and protect those who cannot protect themselves.
I am proud of these people and hope that, in my own way, I can count myself in there somewhere. But that is my being proud of portions of our population. And that's not all that being an "American" means.
Being an American also means that I belong to a people who find the insides of a woman's body to be outside the realm of private property, but the inside of a gun locker to be inviolable; it's unmentionably private and sacred space. Being an American means that I belong to a nation who revels in its divorce law and month long marriages while denying "certain" people the right to legally bind their property and assets. Being an "American" also indicates that I am part of a group of people who cannot locate their own country on a map but can quote half an episode of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" or "Swamp People" or "Moon Shiners." You can see all these shows on what we call The Learning Channel, The History Channel, and The Discovery Channel. If you've missed episodes, don't worry. While you complain bitterly about China owning our country you can head over to Walmart and buy some cheap DVD's of the show.
The National "We" is in a fury over teachers carrying weapons into schools but we shudder at the thought of paying them the salaries they deserve to be weaponized protectorates of our children. America at large would like to see more guns in the hands of all citizens but not extend healthcare coverage when those guns go off. And we quibble over whether poor people are doing drugs...poor people..doing drugs. The greatest users of drugs are middle class whites. Want to know why? We have disposable income. Poor people? Not so much. But we're so greedy and vindictive that we'd rather spend millions testing them all in case we can catch the few who suffer from the illness of addiction and then boot them off the very program that could help them. It's absolutely right for us, because we hate people looking for a free ride. You know...like the slave owners, who created some of the greatest and oldest wealth this country still has, who clearly didn't get a free ride whilst making that money.
Then again, we pass the most confusing tax on the planet in order to protect the money of those with the most money. I mean, if fathers and mothers working hard so that a sect of people (usually white men) never have one single student loan payment to make after their higher education and internship at a friend's prestigious firm, so that they can get some sweet job selling junk bonds and trading in futures, doesn't qualify as "hard work" then what does? Honestly.
None of this makes me proud to identify with a national image.
We have a government that built into itself a catastrophic trigger "just in case" they found themselves acting like teen aged assholes. And guess what? They're acting like teen aged assholes on steroids right now. What's the trigger for that? We impeach presidents who cheat on their wives but find it treasonous when a populace questions the motivations for a 10 year war. Each side accuses the other of being a lemming, a sheep, and mindless drone, as each side pontificates and flails about in the quicksand. And We, as a nation, take to Twitter and Facebook to post memes and rants and forwards of untruths but only as long as Honey Boo Boo isn't on TV. Then all bets are off. Where are my Cheetos?
In my state, there are yard signs everywhere imploring me to "Protect Religious Freedom" as if Christianity is under attack in this country. Strangely enough, there was no mail on December 25th. And there was no banking to be done. On Sundays the banks are closed and so are all other Federal offices. It's so weird. I saw myriad municipal trees lit with lights, and about one hundred nativity scenes openly displayed on front lawns....I find it strange because Christians in this country have been forced into a silent underground. They've had their religious freedoms to appear on TV with their sister wives and 20 children completely stripped from them. They've been denied the right to claim that "God Hates Fags" and stand outside military funerals. The poor Christians in America have been relegated to the margins and are gasping for any measure of recognition in the public eye.
Do you see that I find none of this worthy of my national pride?
Before you cry that I should "get the hell out if I don't like it" and before you start furiously showing pictures of military members who have lost limbs to protect my freedom to say these things, let me remind you that I appreciate all that sacrifice and honor. I appreciate the people in this society who make it be the kind of country that others still want to be in, no matter what. There have been times when I've thought about what it might be like to live in another country. I've thought about Canada, Italy, England...and then I realize that everywhere I'd go, there is someone who came here and never wants to leave. And what I think is that I WANT to be proud to be an "American." I don't want to just be proud OF Americans...I want to be proud TO BE an American. The national identity has changed in the past few generations and we aren't the country that our Grandparents represented in the Second World War. Mine is decidedly not the greatest generation and I fear that the one coming up after me is even less.
If I could take a pill and go to sleep and wake up to a place that was just right for me, I'd wake up to a nation who: keeps a level head, who prays privately and in groups of family and friends without pressuring anyone else. We would look out not only for our neighbor but for the stranger down the street, and we'd understand that we're a safe country without need for massive weaponry in every home because we pay good, solid citizens to protect us. We would care for the sick and young and old no matter their wealth or education (or drug status.) We'd be a nation who truly values the worth of education for all and who seeks to never ever stop learning.
And it starts at home. And it starts in the schools. And it starts at a local level and a state level and national level. It starts in churches, synagogues, mosques, tea houses and neighborhood bars. It starts with money and love and dialogue. It starts with understanding and talking and it starts with you and with me.
I want to be proud of all of us, and I want to be proud to be an American. I want to make our service men and women, our teachers, first responders and police and fire men and women as proud of me as I am of them. I want you to do the same.