Sunday, January 22, 2017

Loving my America

“Mama, why are you going to the march?”

Chloe asked me this question over dinner a few nights before the Women’s March in Boston. There was obvious stress in her sweet, 7-year-old face, and her tiny eyebrows were furrowed with worry. I’d been talking about attending for weeks, but all my little girl knew was that her mom was leaving her for the day to stand with tens of thousands of strangers on cold city streets, and that everyone kept telling her mom to “be careful!” while she was there.

I took a deep breath. Like all parents, I try to walk the fine line between the freedom and the burden of the truth when I talk to my daughter.

“I just want to remind our new president that we’re here and that he needs to listen to us,” I said. “And we’re going to remind him that he needs not to say bad things about people who are different from him. I’m trying to stick up for us. That’s what makes America so amazing. It’s actually our responsibility to do that! Isn’t that cool?”

I projected confidence to Chloe, and to my friends who confided in me that they were worried to be in such a big crowd in such heated times. But inside, I was a bit less confident. Who wouldn’t be just the teensiest bit worried about their safety in such a situation?

America asks a lot of its citizens. It asks us to choose our leaders and to hold them accountable. It asks us to live side by side with people who are incredibly different than we are. It asks us to constantly climb. It asks us to pledge our allegiance to “liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve had those words memorized since first grade, and have been repeating them on command ever since. But it wasn’t until I held my hand over my heart at the Women’s March in Boston that I really thought hard about what those words—“With liberty and justice for all”—really mean. Who gets to be included in that word, “All?”

The notion of “for all” has its roots in something that I haven’t heard much of from our new president: Love, empathy, and humility. “For all” requires us to see the humanity and inherent value in all people. “For all” is inclusive and devoted, kind and caring.

I understand the tendency to demonize people who are different than we are. It’s so tempting! I am guilty of it, of course. So are you. But despite our failings, my America still always strives to be its best self. My America still tries to live up to its promises. My America rejects its worst instincts. My America knows that humanity is a messy, sloppy thing but that it’s always worthy of our effort and love. My America lends a hand and opens its heart. It’s not measured by who we leave out, or who we shut off, or who we demonize.

I shouldn’t have worried for my safety at the Women’s March in Boston or anywhere else, either. Millions of women in every state, in countries around the world, and on all seven continents (yes, Antarctica, too!) held peaceful, well-organized events. Many police departments around the country, including the city of Boston's, actually thanked us and commended us on our efforts. What else would you expect from women besides maybe a potluck afterwards?

While I was there, I felt patriotic pride surging through me, as I sang America, the Beautiful and Amazing Grace with thousands of other souls, proudly waved a little flag above my head, cheered the public works guys who happily honked their horns in solidarity as we passed, and smiled at the little kids who were perched atop their dad’s shoulders. I was there with my friend Kristine, who works with sexual assault victims; my sister in law Rachael, who provides speech therapy to the elderly; with my friend Jeanne, a fellow journalist. These are my sisters and my heroes. We chatted with strangers and shook their hands. We hugged and cried.

This is the America I know, this is the America that I love. And I don’t care what other people say, even if one of those people is the president now. Cruelty and bullying will never be right, even if it comes from the bully pulpit.

Here is what I believe instead:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

“O beautiful for heroes proved, In liberating strife.  Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!”

My America is great right now. No, it’s not perfect. It never has been. But it’s always working to get better. And I promise to help it get there.