Am I Proud to be American?

The other day I saw a poll question on the website The question was “How proud are you to be an American?”

Interesting question, I guess.

I really like Michael Smerconish, the owner of the website. He is also the host of a show on SiriusXM’s POTUS station and one on CNN. He is very smart, so I always learn something when I listen to him. He is very well informed, so I believe what he reports. And he is pretty non-partisan. He has been a Republican for most of his adult life, but is open minded and thoughtful.

I like him.

So I thought a lot about his poll question.

And here’s what I decided.

There are many things in my life that make me proud.

I’m very proud of my children. They are kind. They are altruistic. They all work in fields that let them help other people. They love each other. They are loyal friends. I am proud of them because I had something to do with how they turned out. I worked hard to be the best parent I could be.

I’m proud of my professional life. I’ve helped to teach hundreds of kids over the years. I’ve learned a lot, taken classes, listened to my smarter colleagues. I’m proud of having done my best to be a supportive and loving adult in the lives of my students. I did my best. I worked hard. I’m proud of my efforts.

My garden gives me a lot of pride, too. When I moved into this house almost three decades ago, there were no flowers. I have dug, weeded, thinned, composted, taken gardening classes, read books, transplanted, pulled up grass……You get it. I have worked very hard to make my yard look inviting in the warm months and cozy in the cold ones. And it’s all organic, too!

But when I think about the question on the website, I am confused.

Why should I feel pride in something for which I bear no responsibility? I was born an American citizen. I didn’t do a single thing to make that true. It’s true because of blind luck. And because of the courage and determination of my grandparents, who chose to leave the beauty and poverty of Italy in the hope of giving their children a better life.

I’m grateful that they did that. I’m happy about it. But proud?

I don’t deserve to feel pride.

How do I feel about the founding principals upon which this country was built?

Well. Given the fact that my ancestors were on another continent when all of that glory was unfolding, arriving on these shores only in the middle of the industrial revolution, I don’t see why I should feel pride in my country.

Do I like the principals and goals enumerated in our founding documents? Sure, for the most part I like them just fine. Sure. Freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness? All good.

But am I proud of them? No. Because I didn’t think of them, fight for them, sacrifice to see them put into place. I didn’t write them down and sign the Declaration of Independence even though that signature might have cost me my life.

So. I guess I’m not actually proud to be an American.

But how do I feel about my personal role in the life of the United States? Am I proud of that?

To some extent, yes I am.

I’m proud that I follow our political discourse. I’m proud that I read multiple sources to shape my ideas. I’m proud that I have gotten involved and have marched for causes I support. I’m proud of the fact that I always vote.

These are actions I’ve taken. Efforts that I have made, on my own, to improve life in this country.

I’m proud of myself as an American. But I don’t understand the idea of being “proud to be an American.”

I am an American because, by the luck of the draw, I was born here. I am an American because other people made sacrifices to get me here.

I am proud to be a decent, kind, loving human. I am proud to be inclusive and welcoming. I’m proud to be nurturing.

I am be proud to have given something good and beautiful to the world.

And I will remember that I have no reason, and no right, to be proud of the things that were given to me simply by luck.

Down the Rabbit Hole

My fifth grade students are working on our annual class play.  They have chosen to rewrite the classic story “Alice in Wonderland”.  It’s so much fun to watch them in action, just letting the creativity flow.  I love this time of year, when my sole responsibility is crowd control.

Of course, I am always amazed at how much the world has changed since I was in the fifth grade, and how the kids’ perceptions differ from mine. (They have written a mariachi band into the play.)

For example, did you know that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did a completely creepy “Alice” movie?  Huh.  I didn’t.  My students wanted to base our script on THAT version rather than Lewis Carroll’s.  So I decided to watch it.

Oh.  My.  God.   I got as far as Johnny’s White Rabbit, with his horrible pinkish orange eyes.  Then I hit that clicker so fast that the whole TV just shut right down.

Of course, the next day the kids had a field day laughing at my sensitivity when I explained my reaction.  They find me very quaint.

So they tried to explain the Burton story, telling me all about how the Jabberwocky is a giant monster that Alice has to slaughter in the end.  This is the story that they all know. This is how they think it goes.

Um.  Really?

Has everything in the whole wide world changed, I wonder? Even the classic old stories, once known and loved by every child, have been changed and rewritten and done over.

Is nothing sacred?

Sometimes I feel as if I have fallen down the rabbit hole.

I mean, look at the way everyone is suddenly raising chickens.  Now I am a confirmed and dedicated locavore, and I love the fact that I am able to buy fresh eggs and local, organic chickens.    But when I was a kid, the only people who had actual chickens in the back yard were those hopelessly backward, unsophisticated immigrants. The rest of us thought they were….well….quaint.

I feel like I’m down the rabbit hole.

And what about plastic, for goodness sake!  Remember “The Graduate”?  (Of course you do).  The middle aged, successful businessman advises a young Dustin Hoffman to “get into plastics” because it is the material of the future.  Back in the 60’s (when I was in fifth grade), having things made of plastic was a sign of modernity.  I remember clearly when my tin “Beatles” lunchbox with its warped metal clasp was replaced with a bright blue plastic “Lost in Space” lunchbox.  I was so incredibly cool.

Now everyone hates plastic. It is made from petroleum, it stays in the environment for a billion years and there is a big pile of it swirling around in the Pacific Ocean.  Plastic is hopelessly old fashioned and out dated.

Rabbit hole.

And let’s think about politics for a moment, shall we?

I remember a time when conservative Americans believed in the motto, “America. Love it or leave it.”  I remember when it was the middle class, white, conservative “majority” that used to vilify the hippy radicals who marched in protest against the Vietnam War.  When young people stuck flowers into the gun muzzles of the National Guard, the conservative base called them “unAmerican” and “disrespectful.”

I remember “My country right or wrong.”

Now? If you want to call yourself a real conservative, you have to believe that you and your friends have a right and a duty to own big guns that can shoot a million rounds.  Why? So you can fight back against those government agents if they come to your door.

Rabbit hole in a big way.

And finally, there is the recent loss of sensitivity to sexual misbehavior.  See, for my entire life, a public figure could pretty much say goodbye to his career if he was caught red-handed in an affair.  I mean, we all knew that behind closed doors powerful men were enjoying their free time in the company of beautiful women.  But it couldn’t be right out there in public! Remember the incredible outcry when Ted Kennedy was caught cheating after the death of his young and beautiful campaign worker?  The uproar was more about her presence in the Senator’s car than it was about her tragic death.  And I know you remember Monica Lewinsky…..

So how do you explain Mark Sanford? The famous A.T. “hiker” was reelected after admitting that he was in Argentina with his girlfriend while collecting his public paycheck. He was reelected. They knew about his lies, his cheating and his attempts to cover it all up, and they voted for him anyway.  Really???

And then there is the skinny,  smirking face of the man with the unfortunate name.  First he sends photos of his pride and joy out into the Twitterverse, loses his Congressional seat and publicly hangs his head in well earned shame.   Then he runs for Mayor of New York.

Well, yikes.

This is not the world I grew up in, for sure.   Alice, we are down the rabbit hole.