I love unexpected moments of being completely uplifted. Last week I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta on my way to speak at the University of Alabama. Having gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to make the flight, I was groggy, cranky and struggling to be comfortable during the four and a half hours in my cramped seat next to a man who was snoring (loudly!).
As we were about to descend, I had a mood swing - in a positive direction. The flight attendant got on the PA and thanked us for flying with them. I was only really half listening since as a frequent traveler I have heard all the scripted announcements so many times I could probably give them myself. But then the tone of her voice shifted - she began to speak louder and with more conviction which got my attention. Slowly and with deep appreciation, the flight attendant began to individually acknowledge by name an 18 year-old uniformed solider on board who was on his way to Afghanistan. She then extended her gratitude to all military men and women on board and requested we join her in appreciation.
Instantly the entire plane burst into thunderous applause. I was covered in goosebumps. Somewhere in the sky we transformed from separate strangers on board an airplane competing for overhead space and legroom into a collective group uniting in celebration. The applause was followed by a passenger singing "God Bless America" over the PA in the sweetest, slowest, most graceful way as we landed in Atlanta. I had tears in my eyes as I truly listened to the words of the song and felt its meaning.
In that moment I realized how lucky I was to wake up in America where I have the freedom and safety to fly across the country and do something I love. I also connected to a richer gratitude for the men and women who have made their passion serving and protecting our county. Immediately I experienced patriotism and felt a connection to everyone around me - even the snorer.
Patriotism does not make headlines these days; perhaps being too focused on what we do not like about our country has clouded our vision, preventing the blessings that come with being an American from shining through. This is a wonderful analogy for life in general - if we are consistently complaining and focusing on what is not working, what we don't like, and what we long for to be more, better or different; we lose sight of what there is to be grateful for.
I realize that so many Americans are going through difficult times - people are losing jobs, health care, and even loved ones to war. But does that mean we have to lose our love for this country as well? Is it really helping things to be bashing our former and current leaders? Are we solving the problems of this country by continuing to focus on how bad things are? We saw more patriotism come forward when Obama was elected, but it seems to have fizzled a bit at a time when we need it most!
What if we could begin to get excited about our country again and the possibilities for the future? What if as a country we began to talk about the things that are working here and focus on what we love about being an American rather than engaging in negative thinking and complaining?
I'm sure many people will call me a dreamer or not rooted in reality for saying this, but I do believe in this country and my fellow Americans. Our economy will recover, the job market will turn around and we will continue to make America an even better place. And I think that we all want to feel patriotic again, like we belong to something bigger than just our own small world. I saw it first hand on my "patriotic plane ride" as I watched people put away their cell phones, computers and books and experience connection and gratitude. Am I just being naïve? Possibly, but I will say this - believing in America sure feels a lot better than bashing it.