I took a walk yesterday and noticed the American flags that lined my street. It was 9/11 and an important day of remembrance so I wasn’t surprised to see them. I was, however, surprised when an unexpected feeling washed over me:
It took me a minute to put a name on it but as I stood and looked at those flags, I felt an unmistakable sense of guilt and a question popped into my mind:
Am I a bad American?
It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to me before. I’ve always been proud of my country and felt that I knew my place in it but I’m not so sure anymore. The things I feel strongly about, like freedom of speech and the belief that all men and women are created equal, are actually topics of debate now. Concepts that have always been pillars of truth to me are now disputed and sometimes even considered unpatriotic. In fact, about 50% of my country disagrees with my core and most basic beliefs.
So who is right? What does patriotism mean when an entire country is split on what is patriotic?
That’s not where the root of my guilt really lies though. If I look deeper, I see the countless Americans who have died for me. I see broken young boys on blackened battlefields and troops who are overseas, serving even now. How do I serve them?
And what about the people who died on 9/11 and have died since, simply for being Americans? What have I done for them? Does my patriotism mean anything to the children who’ve grown up without parents because they were lost to war, or terrorism?
So what can I do for my country to show my appreciation? Even in a time when we are conflicted beyond repair?
I walked down my street among the flags, and one briefly brushed my shoulder. I felt a moment of peace and realized that I never fought for the things that were important to me because I wanted to be a good American. I did it, and will continue to do it, because I wanted to be a good human. And hopefully, that is enough.