I just got back from Mass. Nobody followed me home in a mysterious black car.
Yesterday, my wife went swimming with her head uncovered and her legs and arms exposed. Nobody tried to beat her to death as a harlot.
Not one of my children are child-soldiers, impressed into some warlord’s guerrilla army and transformed into hardened killers at an age normal children are learning to bat a ball.
I have criticized my government. I and my family will not be shot.
I have weight to lose, not gain.
My four sons are not dying from some easily treatable disease. My wife did not die in childbirth with my second son.
My childhood memories are full of fishing on the Skagit River, long lazy summer afternoons in a treehouse reading comic books, and joyous Christmases — not of terror and death.
I live in a land where much of Whitman’s Democratic Mysticism, though battered and bloodied by the creeping Paris Hiltonization of our culture, still breathes. As Chesterton said, the ordinary American is all right. It’s the Ideal American that is all wrong. Much of what our Manufacturers of Culture export via the media appalls the world. But foreigners who visit my country typically remark that it’s much better than what they saw on TV.
Pope John Paul II used to read a country’s literature to encounter the soul of a people. I live in a country that can boast The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a founding document almost as important as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. If those documents are the American Torah then Mark Twain was our Isaiah and Huck Finn remains the best glimpse into the greatness (and the sinfulness) of my people ever written. I am honored to come of a people that could give birth to such a book.
In a hundred ways, America is my mother. I cannot count the ways she has formed me and the gifts she has given me — gifts so much a part of me I doubt I am even conscious of them, any more than I am conscious of the rules of grammar as I speak. The fundamental thing I feel for America is gratitude for her people, her heritage, her abundance, her rooted faith in equality that is capable of breaking down our own historic sins against justice like the slow pounding of the surf. I love the very land, especially my own home of Washington, first among 50 equals and the most beautiful state in the union. I love the sheer dizzying variety of the American people. I am amazed at our genius for bringing together ethnicities and religions and somehow defusing the fratricidal conflicts which, in the Old World, have gone on for centuries.
God tells us to use his gifts for the good of others. America’s genius lies in no small measure in the fact that it somehow created a culture that trusted this basic fact of divine revelation, unleashing the potential of ordinary people to do astounding things. I am in awe at our ability to self-organize. We do it well in crises (New Yorkers on 9/11 were a proud and moving example), but that’s because we do it all the time — making the U.S. a historic engine of industrial and technological innovation.
Patriotism is simply obedience to “Honor your father and your mother.” We honor our parents because they are our parents, not because they are stronger or better than all other parents. I think “USA! #1!” is not patriotism, but jingoist rubbish. I love my mother because she’s my mother, not because I think she should be everybody’s mother. I don’t believe “My country, right or wrong” any more than “My mother, drunk or sober,” to paraphrase Chesterton. I honor her because she is the mother God gave me. For her I gratefully ask the intercession of the greatest mother, Mary.
This essay originally appeared in Northwest Catholic and is reprinted here by gracious permission of the author. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.