The elections are right around the corner, so naturally I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about our country. Don’t worry, I’m not about to put my two cents in on who I think the better candidate is, tell you who I’m voting for, or even disclose my party affiliation. I’m actually getting quite sick of partisanship and politics. No, tonight I am considering a question somewhat casually posed by a friend of mine. The question wasn’t directed at me or anyone in particular, but rather (I’m assuming – yeah, I know I should really stop doing that) is one that is intended to make us all stop and think: “what makes you an American Patriot”. Seems like an easy question. However, knowing as I do, that it comes from a Marine who has risked his life for over a decade in the service of our country …well … knowing that it makes me pause and consider my answer a bit more carefully. (Especially since I just finished looking at a friend’s honeymoon pictures and thinking to myself “why do I live in crappy ol’ Baltimore when I should be living in Curaco.” … not very patriotic, huh?)
So why do I consider myself an American Patriot? Hmmm… well… the easy answer is that I truly am proud to be an American, I pay my taxes, exercise my right to vote, and defend others right to speak their minds (even when I completely disagree). Doesn’t seem like much does it? Certainly doesn’t seem like much to me when I put it like that. Not next to a Marine fresh from Iraq. Not next to two Grandfathers in the Air Force, a Grandmother who was a volunteer nurse during WWII, an uncle who served in the Air Force, another who served in the Navy, another in the Army Reserve, an aunt who works for NASA, an Uncle working for the DOD – I won’t even go into the cousins – and even my own sister (who I can’t really talk about what she does – not that I know, anyway). Huh. Hmmm… well. On the surface, I’m not really much of a Patriot at all. I play music in bar bands, do artwork, and stay at home with my kids. I reap the benefits of others’ determination and self-sacrifice. I rest easy in the comfort of (what I like to call) the Club Med of Nations, and live in a kind of security that many people will never know.
I will always remember the morning of 9/11/01 (I know what you’re thinking – “huh?? How’d we get to that topic” – just bear with me, okay?). About the time the first tower was hit, I was sitting in the living room of my high-rise apartment eating a grapefruit. The sunlight was warm & perfect and played through that silly little grapefruit such that it looked like some sort of jewel. I thought to myself that I was very like a Queen having gems for breakfast. Later that morning, when I was fully aware of what was going on & stuck in grid-lock traffic trying to come home (like everyone else), I was angry. Not at the terrorists, ironically, but at myself because I was unprepared. I had lived the life of that queen eating her beautiful fruits in her bathrobe. I had made nothing of my life that would be useful in a time like that. I was no firefighter, or soldier, or paramedic, or doctor … or even a diplomat or translator. I remembered thinking about how as a kid I wanted to work for the CIA or FBI or design fighter jets… and here I was in traffic … totally useless – and I hated myself for it. Well, here we are years later and I’m back to those same thoughts. I feel less guilty, though, because I know that not everyone can be everything. Not everyone is meant to be a soldier. Soldiers make the sacrifices that they do so that people like me can live the carefree life that I, as an American, enjoy. My grandfathers fought so that I would never have to. Does this give me the right, though, to call myself a Patriot? I think it does only because I understand the price that was paid to bring me here to this beautiful place, and keep me safe. And only if I teach my children to thank a soldier and explain to them why it’s important. I can say truthfully that I do that. Right now my son only gets that soldiers “fight bad guys” and get to use guns. He once asked a Marine that we saw outside of Trader Joe’s “you fight bad guys?” and the Marine was taken aback, smiled & said “yeah, sometimes”. My son said “thanks for keeping me safe” then turned to me and asked for apple juice. For now, I think that’s enough.