It's a strange era to be a patriot.
I love the Fourth of July. As a kid, it was my favorite holiday. My dad would line flags up and down our driveway; these days, he lines the dock. There is something about it that's timeless. It exists, largely the same, as it did when I was younger. There are barbeques, I watch Wimbledon, there's the sound of firecrackers. Yesterday, I wanted to go watch fireworks. Any fireworks anywhere-- there's just some sense of wonder and continuity. It's pretty, and not just because of the color and the display. It's a pretty thing, all those people out in the same place, heads tilted skyward in awe. The fear and anxiety of small children, coupled with their glee and amazement. I still feel the same way.
It rained though, and no one else wanted to go. So I skipped dinner and left everyone at my house sitting in the air conditioning, and drove through the rain listening to the Pixies. Webster Groves. I could see the smoke before I saw the explosions. Turning off the interstate, the sidewalks, parking lots and grass were thronged with people, even as it poured. They stood holding hands, huddled under umbrellas, pushing children skyward as if those few extra feet would make a difference. It was beautiful. That was beautiful, seeing all those people in the rain. Our nation's birth.
I parked on a side street and stood alone in the rain, humming the national anthem. It's a strange thing for me, patriotism. I love America and yet am also disappointed in it. I am humbled and humiliated. I am entrigued and baffled. The concept of nationalism has always been a tricky one. It has been intertwined with patriotism, and both have become dirty... and yet not feeling either has become a sort of treason. It's complicated, and I can only imagine that it has always been so.
Living in England when I was 20 was my first inkling of real confusion. I knew what it meant to be American living on this continent; it means something wholly different when abroad. Suddenly I was charged with all the crimes of my nation. I stood for this country, and to those whom I met, I was America-- not simply an American. I was bullied, mocked, stalked, kicked out of classes, treated better than I should have been, and worse than I deserved-- all because of my nationality. I was punished; I was lauded. It was strange, and I felt very strange within it.
For someone who has always looked at this country critically, I was left alone. I love the idea of America, and I am fascinated by what we have become-- not because I always agree with it, nor even approve. But I am fascinated with the process of being a nation-- with the process of coming together and falling apart, of uniting and dissolving. It's what I have always studied, and it's what I have always known. For me, it is about finding something in common.
9/11 proved me to not be a patriot in the eyes of most citizens because I did not want to go to war. Traveling abroad, I often pretend I am Canadian because then I don't have to answer for the mistakes that our government has made. And yet, I am fiercely defensive of being an American-- but that's just it... I am AN American, not American. I do not embody all that this nation does; I am simply an ambassador of what it can be.
Yesterday in the rain, watching those fireworks burst into the sky, thinking of what that meant, I thought of the missiles being launched from N. Korea. I thought of the Space Shuttle launching. I thought of living in England when Parliament tried to ban nationalism in the UK. I realize it is much more these days, but to me, a nation is a concept. It is a thought, and a belief. And I do believe-- not always in who we are or what we are doing, but I believe in our constant power to re-invent ourselves and our ability to change. Nations are not static, nor is the word patriot. Gone are the days where the patriots rush with bayonets towards the oncoming oppressors. We are the oppressors in many ways-- and we thwart our own goals. I wish the patriots would start charging at the opposition with ideas. Maybe then I won't have to stand alone in the rain on the Fourth of July; maybe soon people who think like me won't stand alone at all.