On a day when Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 239 years ago, my thoughts have been on what it takes to be a patriot. Patriotism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “love for or devotion to one’s country.” And I feel this love for and devotion to my country, the United States of America. My childhood was riveted with examples of people who felt a strong love and devotion for our country, and encouraged it in me. It wasn’t the 4th of July picnics, the parades of flags, or the red, white, and blue streamers woven through my bike spokes, although those things were included. I somehow felt the goose bumps and deep emotion from realizing the freedoms that I could claim and what those freedoms cost. Some have lost peace of mind because of what they experienced. Others have lost a limb or the physical ability to function as before they chose to serve. Some have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to protect the country they love. Whether you believe in the purpose of any particular war/conflict or not, whether those who served were drafted or enlisted of their own accord, their devotion is not merely admirable, but humbling.
Given the examples of civic and historical knowledge deficit, as seen on talk show sketches, I can gather that the focus on these topics are lacking in some schools. (Please notice the emphasis on some, as I know there are teachers who are passionate about what they do as well as their own commitment to civic duty.) It makes me sad that students are managing to graduate high school without an understanding of or appreciation for the history that has made this country great, and even the implications of and lessons to be learned from the darker pieces of the past. And yet it seems that some of the loudest voices screaming for rights are the least knowledgeable or the most entitled.
Somehow we have forgotten that our “rights” cease when they cross the line into another’s “rights.” I have the right to listen to my music as loud as I want, but my neighbor has the right to have peace and quiet. I have the right to choose the type of clothes I want to wear, but my employer who pays my salary has the right to specify the parameters of what I wear to work for safety and professionalism. I have the right to express and live my religious beliefs, and everyone else has the right to be treated with respect, even when they believe differently. You get the point. It seems that too many of us have lived in prosperous times that have made us forget or minimize what we have, always wanting more. And now.
I experienced the privilege of spending a month in Papua New Guinea more than 33 years ago. What a beautiful place to see, wonderful people to meet, and very different culture to experience. It was a time I will never forget, because the people who live with far, far less convenience, are more gracious, generous, and grateful than any others I have met. I admit, I was extremely glad to be back on American soil (mostly because I missed hamburgers and our crispy French fries, and I have a texture aversion to fresh pineapple), but with a renewed appreciation for my country due to the grateful attitude I felt there. You don’t have to visit another country to gain a new appreciation of your own, but it is a positive result if you do.
How can you and I show our patriotism to this great country? For those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to serve or chose a different path, showing our patriotism must come in different ways. We all can’t get involved in the political scene, but we can show our gratitude for all we have access to rather than complain. We can ask for transparency of government offices. We can treat each other with kindness, respect, and grace, even when they believe differently. And pray. Enough of the nasty name-calling and hateful rhetoric. Enough of forcing our rights while infringing on the rights of others. Don’t let those who shed blood for this country to have died, lost limbs, or suffered emotionally in vain. And when you’re at an event and hear our national anthem, stand tall with pride and gratitude, or stop on your refreshment run, remembering the price of freedom. God bless America.