Thursday, September 11, 2008


Patriot, n
Middle French patriote compatriot, from Late Latin patriota, from Greek patriōtēs, from patria lineage, from patr-, patēr father
Date: 1605
: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary
I had never really thought of myself as a patriot. I wasn't raised to have great love of country, the flag nor the national anthem never filled me with awe. The history I learned in school seemed dry and dusty; what I read on my own, while interesting, was interesting because they were stories of individuals working for causes not directly related to country but to people. Save the Jews. Civil Rights. Things like that. I certainly appreciated the rights granted to me by the Constitution but it seemed as though those rights were being assailed by people who called themselves patriots; those people seemed to think that people like me didn't belong in the US at all.

Patriotism always seemed alien, the purview of flag-waving, gun-toting, blindly-following stereotypes. People who drank too much beer then dropped the cans for someone else to clean up. People who called themselves patriots seemed to be those who relied too heavily on the latter part of the definition above - one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests. There was too much about this country that seemed wrong for me to call myself a patriot. Charles Bronson and John Wayne movies seemed to define patriotism. It wasn't something I could apply to myself - it was, I see now, a prejudice view, but one supported by film and television. It was also a view supported by a government that seemed to be consistently undermining the things I thought made this country good - civil rights, cooperation, democratic process.

On September 11, 2001, I found myself thinking, for perhaps the first time in my life, about what it means to be to be an American. About the rights and privileges my citizenship has given me, about why my grandparents struggled to come here. I watched the smoke tumble across that clear blue sky and cried, just like you did.

For the first time in my life, the flag had meaning for me. I felt like an American, like we all were Americans, unified in that moment.

In the following years, my definition of patriotism has changed. I read the definition above - one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests - and realize that I can love my country even if I don't agree with all the actions that are taken in my name, even if I don't always support our authority not agree with the stated interest. It can be an act of patriotism to state my opposition to the acts of the government.

I have traveled enough now to see the diversity of our population (even as I recognize our great rifts of prejudice and inequality). I have worked enough now to recognize the economic opportunity that can be possible here (even if our economic system is far from perfect and is not the best in the world). I have read enough now to see the advantages of our justice system (flawed though it may be, at least people are rarely just "disappeared"). I have lived long enough to appreciate that, while it isn't perfect, it could be worse. While I may feel powerless sometimes (and the squandered hope after September 11, 2001 fills me with hopelessness sometimes) I at least have a voice. And words. And stories.

You do too.

On this day, of all days, speak out. Tell the story as it is and as it should be. Stand up for the good things about this country and for what this country can be. Do so in honor of those who died and helped wake us up to the fact that our collective actions - the actions done in our name as America - have an impact. If there is something you cannot bear about our current course, write a letter, call your congressman, vote. We the people have that right, here in America, and it is only if we do not exercise it that we lose the power to others. Remember that it is an act of patriotism to claim this country as your own. It is an act of patriotism to stand up and speak out.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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