Today is the birthday of the United States of America. I often wonder on this day, as I do on many other holidays, whether people really contemplate what today is all about. America is one of the younger countries in the world, comparatively speaking, but I fear we have already lost a lot of the importance tied to what today really should, by all rights, mean.
Today, I’m thinking about what it means to me to be an American. Like many Americans, I have parts of my family that can be traced back for generations. My ancestors ranged from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania down to Virginia and Tennessee. Somewhere along the way Native Americans (Cherokee) came into my family tree, and they had been here for thousands of years. But also like many Americans, I have parts of my family that have only been American for a short time. In fact, five of my eight great-grandparents were not born in the US. Four were born in Russia and one was born in Switzerland. I know precious little about what their lives were like. I have very few family relics. What items we do have, the meaning has been lost in most cases. As an American I’m sort of like a newly potted plant. I have some deep roots, but not a whole lot. I lean on my identity as an American and can’t depend on a sense of self coming from the past.
As an American on America’s birthday, I am worried for my country. That might seem strange to those of you who feel like the US thinks of ourselves as indestructible. That’s part of the problem. But I fear most that hatred is beginning to reign supreme. Perhaps hatred has always been at the core of the US. African Americans and Native Americans would likely say so. The hatred I see now is not seemingly based so much on skin color, but rather on a sense of people needing to feel that their views are 100% accepted. In the Ken Burns Civil War series, historian Shelby Foote notes that Americans have always been masterful at compromise. I fear we’re losing that. I fear we are losing our capacity for civil discourse. Especially when it comes to the issues that matter most.
I have a lot of wishes for America. I hope that we can continue to emphasize our capacity to do great good. I hope we can come through this election season as a single country, though I’m beginning to wonder. I hope we can make peace with our past and build for a stronger future. I hope Abraham Lincoln remains Abraham Lincoln and not just a vampire slayer. I hope we can remember how big we are and that there is room for plenty of perspectives.
I have a lot of hopes for America. I have a lot of worries, too. My worries for my country stem from the love of my country. I want it to be the best. I want it to be what our founding fathers dreamed it could be in 1776. Onwards and upwards, America. Seize the Day.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeannerene/4907249541/ via Creative Commons