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 forced to do hideous things that transform them into hardened killers at an age normal children are learning to bat a ball.
In this space I have criticized the Bush administration. I will not be shot and my family will not be sent to a re-education camp for the crime of being my family.
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 our second son.
When I think of my childhood, I am not haunted by the faces of government thugs beating out my parents’ brains and shooting my brothers before my very eyes. Instead, I think of fishing on the Skagit River, long lazy summer afternoons in a treehouse reading comic books, and joyous Christmases.
My friends moved to distant states, yet no Central Committee monitored their movements or told them they could not pursue the course in life they chose. Should they decide to pursue something else, they are free to do so.
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. Indeed, my people have proven astonishingly resistant to many of the worst lies we tell ourselves. As Chesterton said, the ordinary American is alright. 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 not like what they saw on TV. (“Crack heads shooting each other on rainy city streets” was the vision of America an English friend had from the telly—till he came here).
Pope John Paul II 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 faith rooted 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 fifty equals and 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, had gone on for centuries.
God gave people gifts and told us to use them 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 US 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.” I honor her because she is the mother God gave me. For her I gratefully ask the intercession of the greatest Mother:
We pray for our Mother, the Church upon earth,
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!