The “high season” of America’s patriotic holidays – from Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day to Flag Day and Independence Day – always reminds me of my maternal grandmother. Although I come from a family that has served in our military for many generations and has no shortage of patriots, Grandma truly bequeathed to me her love of our Nation.
For most of her adult life, Grandma was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. That wasn’t surprising given the fact that my grandfather was a loyal UAW member who built cars at the General Motors plant in Parma, Ohio for more than three decades. But that didn’t mean she was not “all in” for America. Indeed, she was adamant about supporting our military, buying American, and flying the U.S. flag on the front of the house.
Never once would it have crossed her mind – or the minds of her mother or aunts, who emigrated from Austria to the U.S. through Ellis Island not long before World War I and were naturalized as citizens – that our Nation’s founding documents were controversial because of their references to God, the establishment of an Electoral College to choose the President, or powers reserved to the States in our federal form of government. And she would have been appalled by the idea of a company banning the American flag on its products to placate a malcontent athlete.
For Grandma, as for so many Americans over the past dozen generations, America was an idea. Despite its imperfections and the predictable squabbling that occurs in any family, particularly one as large and diverse as our country, she saw the United States as a blessed Nation, a unique experiment in self-government, and, without question, the best place in the world to live.
Grandma understood that our Nation’s flag is an emblem that represents our efforts to become a “more perfect Union,” a concept which, for all its shortcomings, men and women remain willing to die to defend. On Independence Day – and every day – it is that one percent, those few who still volunteer to wear the cloth of the Nation, we ought to celebrate.
And so, before today’s cookouts and fireworks, let us pause just a moment to recall with gratitude the sacrifice of those revolutionary patriots who bled and died for a country that didn’t even exist when they fell at Lexington and Concord in 1775, of those heroes who turned the tide of civil war at Gettysburg during this week in 1863 and ultimately preserved this Union, and of all who gave everything they had during these nearly two-and-a-half centuries so we could enjoy a hot dog, round of golf, or time with family and friends on this very day.
Let’s seek the high road of continuing to perfect, unite, and refine this alabaster city on a hill rather than the destructive approach of dividing our country by turning Americans against one another for political points, pandering, or profit.
Although we have always been a restless people, I believe we all know in our hearts we can do better than much of what we are witnessing in today’s body politic. On this Independence Day – and the days that follow – let’s aspire to be better citizens who reflect the spirit of service and sacrifice of our forebears.
My last meaningful visit with my grandmother was three years ago – appropriately enough, on Independence Day. I was scheduled to fly out to Sacramento the next morning to attend my fraternity’s national convention, and for once I had completed the dreaded chore of packing with time to spare. Although I had already visited Grandma earlier in the day, I decided to spend the evening with her watching “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS. Predictably, she sang along with many of the patriotic songs for which she always had a certain zeal. In God’s perfect timing, it turned out to be the ideal conclusion to the 41 years during which I learned from her what it means to be a grateful, spirited American.
On this 243rd birthday of our great Nation, my prayer is that we can all love our country with the type of fervor my grandmother always exhibited for this exceptional place we call the United States of America. From my family to yours, have a happy Independence Day!