I love Independence Day. It’s all about summer, family, picnics, BBQ, beer, fireworks and homage to Old Glory. In last year’s article, Star Spangled Memories, I reflected on summers spent at grandpa’s place on the lake, and the dozen photo albums of memorable fourths. For 2014, I’d like to revisit the subject of who we are as a nation.
If you listen to today’s seemingly immoderate media espousing the derision of our elected officials, many wonder what happened to the greatness that defined the country. Live a while outside our borders, I’ve no doubts you’ll find that greatness is still soundly intact.
I spent two years with the Peace Corps in Asia. They used to say “it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.” What it should be is: “It’s a job that will make you appreciate where you came from.” Having spent more than a decade overseas in my professional career, you get a unique perspective of how other cultures live, and more importantly, what they really think of us Americans. Ask any military person who spent time overseas, and they’ll be happy to tell you how good we really have it.
We’ve had a tendency of late to feel our nation has lost its luster in the eyes of the international community. Aside from a few who have axes to grind or disappointed in our free-wheeling way of life, most are as positive of our country as they’ve ever been. They like America. They like our freewheeling cowboy ways, a place where anyone can be rich and famous, live your dream, speak your mind, and worship freely. The planet still has too many places where despots insist on dictating needs of the many.
Is it perfect? Oh, hell no. Right versus left, up versus down, enough to make your head spin. That’s what makes it great. People voicing opinions, standing up and saying what for. Democracy is chaotic, inclusive, confusing, open-minded, batty, and downright fantastic. Like all large families, it’s a potpourri of multi-generational next of kin that comes with large doses of squabbling and that crazy uncle we whisper about. And man, do we love to bicker.
Wouldn’t it be neat if all teens when they graduate high school were required to spend a year or so outside the borders? It can be the military, school internship, or service like the Peace Corps. Further away from the border, the better, get them out of that comfort zone of a familiar language and recognizable food. You may think it sounds radical, but they’ll gain a respect for different cultures, and I’ll bet when they repatriate home, they’ll be more patriotic than a general in the army.
What am I doing this fourth? Oh, the usual, check out the local parade, burn some meat over an open fire with a beer in my hand and grouse with friends about what’s wrong with whatever. Why?
Because I can.
I’ll also give thanks for the incredible luck of being part of the world’s greatest democracy … warts and all.