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.” ••