For all

Hello! It’s been quite a long time.

When I last wrote, first grade had just begun–now we are in the homestretch. So many unknowns have been uncovered- Verbs and nouns, pages of reading, addition and subtraction. The kids in the neighbourhood walk to school and back without adults and without fear or trepidation. Lucky for me though, Big Sister still gets excited when I offer to meet her half way.

This time of year is sentimental for lots of other reasons too, many of which are connected to America’s Independence Day. Growing up I loved celebrating the 4th of July each summer. The heat, the fireworks and the music never failed to stoke the flames of love for my country. Living abroad changes things some–the day is always eerily quiet and bittersweet without all the patriotic jubilation. Still, we normally light some sparklers, hang the flag and have a cook out.

This July 4th I want to light the sparklers, but I feel pretty conflicted and discouraged about America. The words, “…with liberty and justice for all” keep running through my head. I get stuck every time at “for all.” A question keeps ringing in my ears. Who are we talking about when we say “for all?” Who deserves liberty and justice? Watching the news from afar if seems like the number and variety of people included in the phrase “for all” keeps getting smaller.

I thought we were on the road to extending freedoms to more people, not revoking freedoms that disproportionately effect certain groups. My heart is heavy as I hear about the other freedoms that will be revoked in the wake of this one. I just don’t understand this pursuit. How should America look when interracial marriage is put on the chopping block or when gay marriage is laid on the guillotine? What good will it do to threaten access to birth control or to end what little rights to privacy people have left?

I am wondering what the vision for our country has become. Growing up I believed that “for all” really meant “for all.” I even thought the group of people included in “for all” was getting larger. I believed that America was a place for everyone. I believed that it was the safest place to be, the fairest place to grow up, the luckiest place to be born. When I heard about the Marshall plan and I believed that we were a group who constructed complex and generous solutions to difficult problems. Not just for our own country but for others. America meant hope and a chance and opportunity. I believed that we had the resources to create a society so good that people wouldn’t need or want to pursue abortion very often. Because I thought it was a reasonable place. I believed we were people who thought ahead and cared about all the aspects of life.

Whether these ideas were naive or just plain unrealistic–Believing this stuff made me into a patriotic American—someone who wants to share and be generous and inclusive. All this has made me a successful expat. I continue to be a person who wants to connect seemingly disparate people. I want to understand people who aren’t like me and learn more languages to make it happen.

This year I’ve been frustrated that we (not just we, Americans, we, the human race) have not evolved as far as I thought we had. I thought that once we learned all the lessons, we’d attain a certain level of civility and then finally we could rest in the nice world we’d created.

But then I was reminded of Usain Bolt. Being the fastest man in the world was not a static destination or a born identity, it was a constant struggle and a journey to perpetually dominate the mind. The battle against air and sweat and flesh—the fight to be the fastest man in the world was one that he would lose the minute he stopped fighting it. He was not the fastest man in the world standing still and talking about himself, he was the fastest man in the world when he was running. And the work he put in before the race was relentless.

Sometimes I forget that things are meant to be difficult. I forget that we are not headed to a destination of tranquility. We are on an ever-shifting, ever rotating planet in a universe full of surprises, dimensions and possibility. Our existence is a complicated algorithm with constant, new and unpredictable influences to be managed and integrated. Our challenge is to bring splashes of joy and delight to that reality–to find calm energy so that we can see clearly in the storm of spinning atoms and energy.

If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we forget what a miracle this whole thing is in the first place. We lose the awe and reverence that is so essential. So now, I take a deep breath and remind myself that creating and maintaining an inclusive nation of opportunity and abundance is not easy and it doesn’t need to be. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. With this thought, the early light of hope begins to spill over the dark horizon.

Maybe America is what I’ve always believed it to be. Maybe when you believe something, it flows through you and influences the way you go out in to the world. You share your ideals and you attract more of it. If my idea of America has allowed me to be a good steward, to believe in personal freedom, to allow people to be themselves– if it has allowed me to reject fear and believe that we are all created equal. If I am a better listener, if I help others use their voices, to aspire to greatness, to pursue happiness—-then my America is alive and well because I am alive and well. And I will keep carrying the flame of this gleaming nation, the one that helped me to become this person.

Independent, free, brave–a generous melting pot. America, my America, home to the colourful, the loud and the innovative. I know this is hard–but if there is one thing I learned growing up in America (and reading Glennon Doyle) it is—we can do hard things.

The header photo is:

Colleen Browning
Union Mixer
(from the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio), circa 1976 
lithograph, 65/125 
23 x 35 inches 
Gift of the Lorillard Company, HMAA.1976.32 
Photo by Todd Stailey