Thursday, July 8, 2010

God Bless America

My family is home from Ocean City. We had a nice time, but I don't know if we'll choose that particular destination again. The crush of people was nuts, and my biggest complaint is there was no good place to relax and just be. Everything was geared toward doing. Of course, that suited my boys just fine. They loved the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk.

The holiday weekend probably drew larger than average crowds, and if you could find a spot to sit, it was an excellent opportunity to people-watch. I did a lot of people-watching. The mass of people on the beach, by the pool, on the Boardwalk, at the parasailing place...everywhere we went...was incredibly diverse. I heard every imaginable variant of English being spoken (as well as several other languages), saw every shade of skin God makes, and smelled the foods of other cultures (the Asian family on the balcony next to us broke all the fire codes and cooked over an open flame).

It was chaotic, and honestly, a bit overwhelming. At the same time, I felt enriched by the experience. Bruce and I struck up a conversation with another couple at the bar of a restaurant one night while we waited for our table. They were from Washington, DC via New York. They had lived in big cities all their life. They marveled at our "southern" habit of speaking to strangers. The lady told us where she's from, people tend to mind their own business. I told her in my small town, we all mind each other's business. We talked for a long time, and by the time we were finally seated, we were great friends (helped in no small part by Bruce buying them shots of Kentucky bourbon).

Later that same night, Bruce and I sat on the beach with a million other people and watched fireworks. The mood was festive, and no one seemed to mind being packed in like sardines. A very nice lady even shared her blanket with us. The music accompanying the fireworks was patriotic, and the finale was "I'm Proud to be an American." The massive crowd on the beach started singing, and it brought tears to my eyes. In that moment, we truly were the melting pot we are supposed to be. My experience had been chaotic, overwhelming, and enriching, but I realized that this chaotic, overwhelming, enriching experience is America.

America is not a geographic location on the globe. America is an idea summed up beautifully by Emma Lazarus in "The New Colossus." You may not recognize the first stanza, but the second will be familiar.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Unless you carry 100% Native American DNA in your blood, you are the wretched refuse of some other teeming shore. Those of us whose families have been here a long time forget that sometimes. My grandmother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I can claim a heritage that goes back to that very first Independence Day. But here's the beauty of America; the person who raised their right hand this past Fourth and took the Oath of Citizenship is just as much of an American as I am. (Okay, constitutionally, I can be President, and he or she can't, but otherwise, our rights are equal. Since I've never aspired to be President, we really are equal. :)

On our way home, the GPS got a wild hair and decided to take us straight through Washington, DC instead of around it. The detour was pretty cool. We drove right down Constitution Ave and saw the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House. I was glad to see those great symbols of America, but without that melting pot on the beach singing "I'm Proud to be an American," those symbols are just brick and mortar.

God Bless America.

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