Tag Archives: pride

When I Am Proud of America

DSC_0061 2“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!

I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.

I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.

So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.

When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.

After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.

I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!

The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.

Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!

The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.

How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?

Celebrate LIFE,

William

A Mother’s Legacy

IMG_1325“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” –Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

Hello friend,

“I have nothing fabulous to leave the world……..except for you guys.” That was my Mom’s response yesterday when I asked what she felt her legacy would be. I have been thinking so much lately about my own life purpose and the mark that I want to leave on the world when I am gone (see “Why Are You Here?” and “Re-Writing Your Story”), so I figured it was time to ask the woman who has made the biggest impact on me. That woman is definitely my mother.

Either not wanting to dive any deeper into the topic, or really thinking that was all there was to say, she moved on to a lighter subject. It left me wondering, though. Does she really have, as she said, “nothing fabulous to leave the world”? I suppose that in a conventional way of thinking, people’s legacies might be discussed in terms of groundbreaking feats or high-minded causes, or maybe even building a business that survives you. That is why we usually only talk about lasting legacies when it comes to people who are now on postage stamps or statues. But let’s face it: not everyone can cure polio or lead the Civil Rights Movement. That doesn’t mean, however, that regular folks like you and me don’t leave our fingerprints on the world, even if it is just our little corner of it. My Mom certainly has.

When I think about my Mom’s legacy, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way she grandparents her 14 grandkids. She has this beautiful way of completely getting down to their level and really interacting with them, forming deep bonds of friendship and love. It is a perfect mix of giggles and cuddles, playmate and caregiver. She has succeeded in becoming this uniquely special someone in every single one of her grandkids’ lives, which is completely astonishing to me even as I think about it now. She’s like the Pied Piper to them. I just think that whether or not these kids (and young adults) can put all of that into words right now, they will go on to be—or at least strive to be—that kind of grandparents when they get to that spot in their lives. For myself, I absolutely am studying her ways, trying to uncover her tips and secrets as to how she pulls off this magic trick, because I would give anything to have relationships like hers with my own future grandkids. Now, that is leaving an impression on the world!

I also think about the type of family atmosphere that she fostered and how that has trickled down to my generation and now my children’s generation. When I consider my siblings, I well up inside with the best kind of feelings. I just think so highly of them. It is an amazing family, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it. I see, too, how my Mom has shepherded us all to a wonderful love, respect, and admiration for each other—I truly admire each of them—as well as a real enjoyment in being in one another’s company. I love being together with my family—all of them. How many people are lucky enough to say that? I don’t take that lightly. And what is even sweeter to me is to watch how it has trickled down to the next generation, that of my two kids and their cousins. The best days of my son and daughter’s whole year are spent at one of Nana’s houses with their cousins, either outside at the lake cabin or cooped up in the house at Christmas. They are thrilled either way. I marvel at how they all get along, and how the old ones, who could be excused for dismissing the little pest that my son can be, are so caring and inclusive. They are family, and they get it. They have learned from the best. The matriarch. My Mom. I can hardly think of a more worthy legacy than that.

And what about the one possible legacy that she considered even worth a mention? When she said, “except for you guys”, she was touching on the one thing that I think many of us find to be, by leaps and bounds, both our life purpose and our greatest legacy: our children. Before I had kids, I had no idea of just how proud one person can be of another. Sure, I had seen parents cheer for their kids and feel bad about their losses, but the sheer sense of pride—the “I made that kid” kind of pride—was something on a totally different level than I had ever imagined. It isn’t even that you feel like it was any of your doing that caused your kids to turn out so smart or creative or athletic (well, you sometimes do!); it is more just that “I created that; that is part of me; that is my heart living outside my body” feeling. Because it is our heart out there on that stage or in that cafeteria or on the court hoping to get picked instead of picked-on, we want to both protect that heart from all harm and also see it grow and thrive and be happy. So yeah, it breaks our heart when our kid loses, but we also feel proud of him or her every single day, win or lose. As parents, that comes with the territory.

So, does it seem rational that parents believe their children are their greatest legacy? Perhaps not, because maybe people are mostly going to turn out the way their soul steers them, no matter what we do. But, just because it is not rational does not mean that it is not completely fair and true. The “that is part of me” is stronger than any rational theory out there. Even if you just provided the sperm or the egg, you have done something amazing and Divine. And you have earned something of a legacy. When you have actually parented—been up all night with a sick baby, or run alongside that bicycle on the frightening first ride, or consoled the loss of a first love—then that legacy feels even more earned and authentic. So, when my Mom says, “I have nothing fabulous to leave the world……except for you guys,” it may come from a humble place, but it is pretty darn proud, too. Five happy adult children who are raising 14 happy grandchildren is no small legacy. I would dare to call it fabulous. We could all be so lucky to leave such an impact. For my part, I feel incredibly lucky to be that impact.

What about you? What is the legacy of your parents? Break out your journal and walk the ground of your mother and father. What kind of marks have they made on this Earth? Were they big or small impressions? If you polled 100 people who knew them, what would they say? Mostly positive, negative, or quite a mix? If it was a consensus that they were well-liked, do you think that would be a satisfactory legacy for them? What more would they want? How much does it matter whether or not they were well-liked, as long as they made a positive impact on the world? Is there a dark side of their legacy, something they (or you) would rather die with them? Are you—and your siblings—the most important part of their legacy? How does that make you feel? Is that an honor? A responsibility? A disappointment? Have you ever asked them about their legacy? Do you think they have asked themselves? How important do you think it is to think about legacy, either theirs or yours? In the end, how much different do you think your mark on the world will be than theirs? Are you okay with the idea that it might be very similar? Is one parent’s mark very different from the other’s, or do they mostly overlap? Are you glad to be a part of it? Is there pressure to live up to it? In your eyes, have they lived lives to be proud of? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your parents leaving behind? 

Share your light today,

William