I have a confession to make.
For many years I have prided myself on how incredibly American I am. I have puffed my chest out and basked in the privilege of my whiteness. I have thought very highly of myself, my fortune to have once traced my family back to the Civil War, where many of our men fought on the “right” side of battlefields, keeping America, our America, my America, a united nation of impeccable greatness.
No generation since has been untouched by service to our country, pilots and linguists, Marine’s and Green Berets. Alongside them have been lawyers and nurses, postmen and accountants, women who have raised children and vegetables, all in the name of the American dream. From valleys to prairies, on lobster boats and steam trains.
Along with my pride, I have yearned for the rich culture of my close and more international friends. I have envied their bilingual homes and heritage filled with spices and pastries, traditions and memories I wished to hold as my own. Their stories of a past home so close that annual visits back and forth were as real as my own family camping trips on quiet lakes of the Adirondack Park.
But I have done so still bloated with my pride that I am American, more American.
So profoundly American that when you ask me where my family is from I name states, not nations of the past.
But then something changed. It began with Bhutan, then the Democratic Republic of Congo, then more nations, more languages. I watched my city fill with the vibrancy and colors of foreign clothes filled with bodies of hope. I watched as dying neighborhoods in a somewhat dying city filled with those whose homes had been ripped way. Junk filled lots turn into gardens, boarded doorways to open doors where the little there is will always be offered to share.
My own personal life began to fill with people whose past is so different from my own, their lives ones I could have easily feared.
I do not know the reality of a heart aching for two homes, one left firmly in the past. I cannot relate to longing for a place where some see only death or destruction, corruption still lingering. I cannot imagine still loving a home I will never, can never see again.
A place where children learn mortality through bodies in the streets rather than Mufasa’s fall from that fateful ledge, Scar leering above him, no regard for the sanctity of his own brother’s life. In America these are the villains of Disney’s fairy tales, not the people taking charge of our homeland.
I now know my home is more vibrant when color replaces desolation. When my own door is left open. When I share, despite worrying, that I won’t have enough. When I quell my fear long enough to recognize the power of stepping beyond it, of replacing the foreign with the comfort of relationship.
What could possibly be more American than a past filled with suffering replaced with a future full of opportunity?
Today, I am proud of the America my family has fought for in the past. I am hopeful for the America we will be in the future. I trust the open arms that I truly believe exist on the bodies of each of us. Today, on this day, I pray for all of us that we quell our fear with the focus of where we have been and where we can go, because what truly makes us American is a rich history, and strong future of taking pasts filled with suffering and replacing them with lives full of opportunity.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7