‘God Bless America, Land That I Love’

Let me give it to you straight:

I love this coun­try. When I stand and sing The Star-Spangled Ban­ner, I may be off-key, but I also feel something amaz­ing — and stir­ring. I think it’s called pride.

But I find that I’m part of a dy­ing breed.

So many all around me think that Amer­ica is such a mess. That we’ve lost our way, our pur­pose, our dis­tinc­tion and yes, our strength.

I guess I just haven’t bought in to that dim view of this coun­try.

Maybe it’s be­cause I’m part of the gen­er­a­tion that be­lieved in Cam­elot when a gal­lant young pres­id­ent named John F. Kennedy re­minded us to think of what we could do for our coun­try — and not the re­verse. That made sense to me.

What didn’t make sense, of course, was that he was felled by an as­sas­sin’s bul­let, and in some ways, noth­ing was ever the same.

But stub­born pat­ri­ot that I am, I still couldn’t give up on this coun­try. Not when Lyn­don John­son prom­ised us The Great So­ci­ety. Not when we em­braced civil rights and star­ted caring about the han­di­capped and paid some at­ten­tion to the en­vir­on­ment.

Sure, it was — and still is — a long hard road. But it was hap­pen­ing.

So while so many around me in­sisted that this Amer­ica had grown un­lov­able, and was no longer a shin­ing beacon to the world, I didn’t listen.

I grew up singing, God Bless Amer­ica/Land that I love. I grew up pledging al­le­gi­ance to the flag. And I sup­pose pure pas­sion reigned over all those flaws that left oth­ers say­ing all was lost. That Amer­ica was go­ing to hell in a hand­bas­ket.

Many years ago, after our first trip to Europe, where everything amazed my hus­band and me as we wandered the streets of Par­is and Am­s­ter­dam, I re­mem­ber how grate­ful — ac­tu­ally over­joyed — we still were to get on that plane and fly home. Where we be­longed.

And if that made us lim­ited people with too much at­tach­ment to a place, so be it.

There have been oth­er trips out of this coun­try, and I still have that same sweep­ing sense of joy upon re­turn when the plane touches down in Phil­adelphia.

Sure, plenty of oth­er places are more majest­ic. Clean­er. More steeped in tra­di­tion.

But this is my coun­try and I al­ways feel its em­brace when we are re­united. It’s al­most like see­ing a quirky but be­loved re­l­at­ive again. Flawed, per­haps. Clearly im­per­fect. But still dear and loved.

At a re­cent gradu­ation I at­ten­ded, only about half the audi­ence even sang the words to The Star-Spangled Ban­ner. Among the gradu­ates them­selves were a few who were, yes, tex­ting. Among their fam­il­ies were some who stood slouch­ing, lips not mov­ing, yawn­ing.

I wanted to stare them down, but I real­ized that it really wouldn’t make a dent. In­dif­fer­ence to one’s own na­tion­al an­them is not likely to be altered by a dis­ap­prov­ing glance.

I sat at that re­cent gradu­ation re­mem­ber­ing the spir­it in this coun­try after 9-11.

Of course we were numb with shock, sick with sad­ness, furi­ous that on this soil such a thing could have happened.

But there was something else, something we might call many things.

Solid­ar­ity. Unity. Con­nec­tion.

Our in­no­cence had been lost, but that sense of bind­ing our wounds to­geth­er en­dured…but then faded.

So dur­ing this Fourth of Ju­ly sea­son, when the ham­burgers are sizz­ling on the bar­be­cue, and the stores are re­mind­ing us of can’t-miss sales, maybe — just maybe — we can pause, however briefly, to re­mem­ber who we are, what a leg­acy we bear and how truly priv­ileged we are to be Amer­ic­ans.

I know it sounds preachy. Corny. Maybe even fool­ish.

But if we could man­age to just sing out two lines of a song we pre­sum­ably all know, it might just re­mind us of what mat­ters, who we are, and where we are:

Those simple words:

“God Bless Amer­ica,

Land That I Love.” ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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