We hear a great deal about patriotism these days but what is it really? Is it only about displaying outward signs of allegiance to this great nation of ours, or is it something deeper, more visceral? I happen to believe that it is all about loving the United States of America so much that one is always concerned about it’s welfare. Sometimes that means having to do difficult things to ensure that democracy remains robust and available for each of us. That might mean serving in the military to protect freedoms, one of the noblest sacrifices that a citizen may make. It may also mean that an individual has to take a stand for what is right and just that is uncomfortable and maybe even misunderstood. Both of these behaviors are necessary at times in order for our country to sustain the principles upon which it was founded, and those which needed to be part of the compact made for the people of this land but were unfortunately omitted from the original declaration of rights. It is not only those who sing anthems and place their hands on their hearts who demonstrate patriotism, but also those who urge us to consider problems that need to be addressed to create an ever more perfect union.
I love this country in a very emotional way. I am filled with gratitude that I may call this glorious land my home, but I am not so prideful to believe that we are without our problems. We all know that there are certain difficulties that have plagued us from the very beginnings of our most remarkable government. It surely must give us pause to realize that we began this great democratic journey with slavery legitimized by law. How can we read the documents that counted enslaved people as two thirds of a person without feeling sorrow? Certainly we eventually had the moral courage to do what was right, but it should never have taken as long as it did. It is the main reason that I sob each time I stand inside the Lincoln Memorial and think upon the courage and patriotism that Abraham Lincoln possessed even to the point of being murdered for his beliefs. Thank God that he so loved this country that he was willing to endure great sorrow and the slings and arrows of criticism to finally set it on the right course. That was patriotism at its very best.
Most of our black neighbors are the descendants of slaves, people who came to this country in chains. A visit to an historic plantation is a painful experience. Walking through the splendor of the antebellum homes of slave owners and then seeing the horrific conditions in which their slaves lived is humbling and causes me to experience great sorrow. It doesn’t take much imagination upon seeing the implements by which the slaves were kept in line to realize how horrible their existence was. It is a blot on our history which we will only eliminate when we are all willing to accept that what happened to those who were treated as property was very wrong.
If we had simply moved forward once slavery was outlawed perhaps we would now be living as brothers and sisters. Instead we spent another hundred years segregating the blacks from our lives. I vividly remember what that looked like and it was ugly. Blacks lived in neighborhoods far from the rest of us. Their children were often housed in inferior schools, although there were incredible efforts made by their own people to overcome all of the educational handicaps that were thrown at them that even included barring black children from libraries. I remember the signs that kept our black neighbors from using our water fountains or bathrooms. We so cavalierly embarrassed our fellow citizens again and again. Sometimes there were even those who terrorized them with fiery crosses. I shudder when I think of a symbol of Jesus Himself being used in such a hateful way.
I could go on and on about what I witnessed, inhumane treatment that seemed unfair even to the child that I was. It was with great elation that I saw heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge our country to correct the inequalities that were legitimized with laws that were unjust. Without violence he led a movement that would eventually overturn many of the inequities, but not until he and his cause had endured great strife and violence. He is to this very day another of my heroes, equal in stature to Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King is in my mind one of the great patriots of American history who raised our consciousness and challenged us make our country a better place.
Many seem to believe that the equitable evolution of the United States of America is finished. Sadly there is still work to be done, questions to be considered. As long as we still have situations in which certain classes of people are considered less eligible for our God given rights and freedoms, we must continue to insist that we have the moral fortitude to continue the discussions and take the needed measures to perfect our system of government. Those who wish to make America better are the true patriots, and it up to all of us to acknowledge rather than condemn their efforts.
We tend to view violence and riots as nonproductive ways of fighting for rights. We don’t really listen to people who would burn and destroy. It somehow seems counter to their arguments for justice. So we should be open to hearing the grievances of those who choose more peaceful means of highlighting their causes. What are people to do when we reject both methods? What are they to think? How frustrated they must be when we turn out backs without attempting to understand their frustrations. Thus it is with our current situation. Our history with the people whose ancestors we treated with so much disrespect are merely asking that we try harder to show them that we no longer view them as somehow being lesser citizens than we are. We insult them when we only react to their pleas with anger or when we ignore them altogether and wrap ourselves in our flags of patriotism as if we are somehow better Americans. One who truly loves this country would want to pause long enough to consider why people would subject themselves to our ire. If things felt okay and wonderful to them surely they would not risk so much to stand up for what they believe to be right and just. Why then can we not at least take the time to listen and dialogue rather than indicting them and accusing them of being unAmerican? Isn’t that a dramatic step backward? Can’t we see the irony in suggesting that they go away if they don’t like what is happening to them?
My heart is filled with nothing but love and appreciation for this country, but I also understand that it is not yet perfect and maybe never will be, but I am enough of a patriot to want it to be. I truly believe the the greatest patriots that this nation has known have been those who stood for something so important and so real that they were literally willing to make every imaginable sacrifice for the good of their fellow citizens. I stand with Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the men and women who fight for all of our freedoms in foreign lands. I also stand with those who have an important message for us to really hear. I will still get goosebumps when I hear the national anthem. I will feel a sense of relief when I return to my country from foreign soul. I will pledge my allegiance with all of my heart, but I will never turn my back on anyone who simply wants to improve this great land. Like a parent who guides a child and builds his/her character, so too are those who alert us to the things that we are doing imperfectly the true patriots among us.