This past weekend, I worked as an extra on a movie scene that takes place at a carnival. We were townspeople apparently in the present day, but locked in the 1950s. Our job was to be wowed by Brendan Fraser’s Elvis impersonator singing “Amazing Grace” (not difficult). It was a stereotypical slice of Americana. Also, the scene featured several women wrapped in American flags, and little else.
Prior to one take, as the flag girls stood in a gaggle nearby, a woman next to me said, “Oh, I hope none of those flags touches the ground. That would break my heart.”
Gesturing toward the women, I replied wryly, “Well, that isn’t exactly the most respectful use of the flag either.” She agreed.
I find it hard to be a “patriot” at times, because of how we define it. People fuss about who salutes the flag with the best posture, and reflect on our nation as if we are nothing but the sum of our bloodshed. But I think the U.S. is so much more than that. And it can yet be so much more.
We seem to be in a holding pattern as a country — talking endlessly about past sacrifices, what the Founding Fathers intended and the things that made us great, while clinging to austerity and ridiculing any major advances. It’s as if our place in the American History textbook is the review chapter. But to me, what makes this nation great is its ability to change and grow, as it has throughout its existence. That doesn’t happen unless we admit to our flaws, which I think is a much cooler way to go than pretending we’re perfect. When you think you’re perfect, you refuse to change — and everything rots around you as a result.
I believe in a country that earns its excellence in practice and, most of all, doesn’t have to be No. 1 to love itself. That’s not to say it doesn’t strive, but it also doesn’t put arrogance above reality. To me, being an American is about being an ambassador for openness and not being afraid to confront the areas where you come up short. And most of all, it’s about being yourself. That’s far more meaningful to me than any symbolism.
Enjoy yourself today. We have a pretty good country that, in spite of its troubles, has a lot going for it. That’s what everything — all the sacrifice, all the history — is about in the end.