One day, when my younger son was about seven or eight, he told me, “I’m proud of being tall.”
I told him that he couldn’t be proud of being tall because he hadn’t done anything to earn it. I told him that he could be happy that God made him tall, but not proud. He could proud of being kind, or working hard, or being a good friend, but he couldn’t be proud of something that was a gift to him. That would be like saying, “I’m proud of getting a bike for Christmas.”
He replied that he was very happy he was tall, and would try not to feel proud about it.
I’m sure it was a struggle, as he was already taller than his older brother, but I think he understood what I meant.
I told him I like being American. I feel incredibly blessed to have been born here. Compared to most of the world, I have it good, and I know it, but I didn’t do anything to deserve it. How can I be proud of something that was given to me?
Now, if I had emigrated here, if I’d had to endure hardships to get here and pass a test to achieve citizenship, I’d be proud and rightly so.
Or if I’d served in the military, if I’d fought for the freedoms I enjoy, I think I’d have good reason to be proud.
But that’s not me, so I’m pleased and I’m grateful, but I’m not proud. I’m also certain the citizens of other nations are just as affectionate for their homeland as I am for mine.
Because I do like this place. I think we have all sorts of problems, as all people do, but we have all sorts of good, too.
We have wonderful sanitation. Have you ever been anywhere with so many free public toilets? Or the abundance of clean tap water? I like that about us.
I love how generous Americans are. We can be in debt, but we’ll still give money away to those in need.
I like how optimistic we are, always looking for the next big thing, always convinced things are about to get better. It might be naive, but the alternative seems like a gloomier way to live.
I like how ridiculously large our idea of personal space is. I like our big beds and how we do our best to leave empty seats between strangers at the cinema so we don’t have to share armrests. Perhaps this makes us weird to the rest of the world, but I like it. It’s comfortable; it’s home.
Maybe I’m more patriotic than I once realized, or maybe it has grown in me with the years. Or maybe I just realize now that patriotism and pride are two different things. Patriotism is a feeling of affection and gratitude, not pride.
Tomorrow night, as I watch the fireworks, I’ll be thinking about how blessed I am to live in a country where I am free to be myself, to complain loudly about the things I don’t like, and quietly take for granted the things I do.
No, I won’t. I’ll be oohing and aahing and wishing I knew how to capture fireworks on film. But I’m thinking about them now, and I’m happy to call this nation home.
I hope you feel the same way, wherever you live.