On this July 4th weekend, I'd like to take a moment to make clear just what it is I believe I'm celebrating, or, more precisely, who I believe I am celebrating. I am celebrating who we are as Americans. Not the Americans measured by demographers; not Americans scrutinized by economists; not the Americans parsed by sociologists or ethnologists; not the Americans remembered by historians; not the Americans sought after by politicians; not the Americans defined by the rest of the world. Just plain old vanilla Americans. Americans with big hearts.
I've met quite a few Americans in my three-score and seven. From north to south, from east to west, in 49 states (I'm still missing Vermont), in countless counties, in thousands of diners, rest stops, schools, hotels and motels, on military bases (I am an Air Force brat) and on great aircraft carriers, on Capitol Hill, in federal departments, on subways, on planes, trains, river boats and busses, in polling lines, at hot dog stands, at swimming holes, and in theaters of all kinds. I've met the hyper-educated and the barely-schooled. I've met bishops of soaring cathedrals, and I've met humble military chaplains and hard-working pastors of modest community parishes. I've met teachers, cops, cooks, actors, artists, musicians, pilots, Presidents, dancers, clerks, small-business owners, CEOs, receptionists, janitors, public employees of a thousand stripes, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, old, young, dying, and newly born. I once met two sisters who had traveled across the country in a Conestoga wagon in the 19th century, and I met a young boy as he touched a piece of the moon at the National Air and Space Museum. Ah... what those sisters saw, and ah... what that young boy will see. All through American eyes.
All of these Americans would probably bridle at being labeled or pigeonholed, assigned some statistical niche for the convenience of bean counters. Yes, some would be happy to claim connection to a political party. Yes, some would be proud to stand tall for their faith. Yes, some would want to note that their heritage traces back to England, Spain, Ecuador, Morocco, Vietnam, India, Poland, or Micronesia. Yes, some would admit to hard-earned financial success. Yes, some would consider punching you in the nose if you spoke basely of their hometown football team. We are vanilla to a point; we are not without passion. Speak unkindly to my dog and you will be shown my door. And all our children are above average.
But no matter their titles, or stations, or educations, or spiritual inclinations, or uniformed service, or other quantifiables, at the heart of who we are as Americans is what is in our hearts. My favorite author, Antoine St. Exupery, wrote in his very popular book, The Little Prince,
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Americans are big-hearted folks. We may find ourselves embroiled in political and social skirmishes; we may take umbrage at perceived -- or real -- slights to our color, our sexuality, our faith, our accents, our lifestyle choices, our tastes in food, sports teams, cars, clothes, haircuts... take your pick; someone, somewhere, will disagree with you on something.
But then step back and watch what happens when tornadoes devastate a small town in Missouri, or when floods ravage West Virginia, or when families are left destitute in the wake of other natural disasters. Watch what happens when the call comes for blood; case in point, Orlando. The lines at the blood bank there... and at other blood banks around the country... were testimonials to our collective commitment to communities in need. It is what we do. It is who we are. We began by raising barns for each other in the 17th century; we continue by raising hopes for each other in the 21st. It is with the American heart that we see rightly what it is we can, and must, do for our fellow citizens.
Americans put aside all their momentary issues and reach deep into their hearts to help. It is what we do. It is who we are. Without thinking. Without the need to be recognized for our charity. We just step up and reach out. It's in our national DNA to be there for each other. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
I am not a Pollyanna. Make no mistake. I know we are imperfect; we are flawed and wrinkled, we can be cantankerous and cold. We too often show signs of intolerance and meanness that belie our innate good nature. We still have a lot of work to do before we can claim partnership with our better angels. But we are doing that work every day. I believe that what makes us Americans is our mutual desire to share the blessings of all we are so lucky to have with those for whom those blessings are still in short supply. It is what we do. It is who we are. And it why, this weekend, I am celebrating Americans.
Have a Happy Fourth!