There are parts of ourselves that we try hard to hide from the rest of the world, lest we be ridiculed, shamed, or grossly misunderstood. So, we push them back in the closet and hope nobody ever looks inside. Well, I’m going to bring one of those hidden parts of myself out into the open. And here it is… I'm a patriotic sap.
Now, for some people that may not be such a bad thing, but for me, it’s embarrassing to admit. I’m always critical of the American story as it’s been reported in our biased history books. I know very well that my country is flawed, deeply flawed. Our founding ancestors were not the heroes we like to believe they were. As much as I love our current president, he is not infallible by any means. And many of the cultural markers that embody what it means to be American drive me nuts: violence, consumerism, narcissism, deceitfulness. I’m not always proud of my country.But that’s not the whole story. I’m also a patriotic sap. When I’m at a sporting event and stand for the national anthem, it’s all I can do to hold back the tears. If I’m home alone, feeling free to express my emotions, and I hear “The Star Spangled Banner” sung on T.V., my sobbing begins right about where “the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
When I enter a voting booth, I get so emotional that I can’t wait to get it over with so I can rush to my car and lose it. It actually starts while I’m waiting in line, looking at all the other people standing with me, rich/poor, black/white, professional/blue collar, young/old, and I consider what a privilege it is to be voting in this country. It’s orderly, non-violent, participatory. And it makes me weep.Despite my cynicism about the U.S. government, I am always amazed at how well it works. Maybe not from day to day, but over the long haul. I think it’s because of our very American core value: justice. We may not agree on how that gets played out, and sometimes the powers-that-be are, in fact, not acting on the side of justice at all. But that’s never the end of the story. We, the people, can change that. And, eventually we do, because we aspire to something more. We aspire to justice.
Yesterday I went to Moral Monday in Raleigh. A couple thousand people met on the grass to join in the very American struggle for justice. With them, they brought bullhorns and signs and flags, and anger and compassion and courage. They are people who can't remain silent while injustice runs amok in our state. And I stood with them. It was hard for me because I had to spend about five hours keeping my sappy patriotism in check.I don’t know when I’m ever prouder of my country than when everything we stand for seems to be lost and a few people will have the courage to remind us of who we are. And suddenly, there it is: “proof through the night that our flag was still there.” The ideals that bind us to one another as Americans may never be fully realized, but they will never be lost as long as there are voices calling us back to justice. And there always seem to be those voices. It's the ultimate act of patriotism, and I can’t help but get sappy over it.