04 July 2011


(Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons)

It was a Sunday afternoon in mid June, 2007. I had been traveling through England for the last two months, living a dream. Two months of hiking and sheep and cadbury and trips to the West End had stopped a few days before and I was missing my friends terribly, wishing to be back in London instead of in France, which was crowded and not nearly as pretty as I wanted it to be. All the same, I wasn't ready to go home. A few more days and I would be back in America, biding my time until school started again in the fall, working at a temp job at my dad's company doing data base entry. After a summer spent hiking approximately 25 miles a week, sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen doing mindless work sounded like torture. I was not looking forward to going home.

The weather mirrored my mood. It was sticky and raining like mad, limiting my ability to explore the beach. I stayed instead next to the seemingly unlimited rows of grave markers honoring those who had died on June 6th, 1944, ready to cover my head with my jacket and run for cover if (and when) the rain started up again.

Sure enough, I had only enough time to take some pictures before the downpour started again. The closest escape from the rain was a monument honoring American soldiers. I dashed toward it and stood underneath part of the monument where a map was displayed, depicting the battle. There were about twenty people there total - all American and (mercifully) speaking English. It was a strange kind of relief to have the luxury of eavesdropping again.

I looked at the map and back out at the rows of gravestones and wished that I felt something. I understood logically the reverence of a place like Normandy, but my England loving heart had never really understood the diehard patriotism of being an American. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy my country and I was certainly grateful for the freedoms I enjoyed, but I longed for the history and museums and culture of Europe, something very much lacking from my midwestern upbringing.

The clock chimed. When it had finished, the speakers around the monument started playing "The Star Spangled Banner". Almost in unison, every person standing around the monument, escaping the now drizzle of rain, turned and placed their hand over their heart to listen. All conversation stopped. I looked around at the group and then up at the monument, out at the graves, and back to the group, suddenly very honored and proud to belong to the country that I did. It was the first time that I ever remember feeling truly, honestly patriotic.

I don't think that my country is any more perfect than others around the world; and we do suffer from a severe lack of decent chocolate (though with Magnum Bars on sale now, maybe times are changing) - but I do honor and respect the freedoms that we have been given here. There is something truly wonderful about belonging to a country that was built with that purpose in mind. Though a large chunk of my heart will always belong in England, I can still say that I am proud to belong to this country.

Happy Fourth.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, Between their loved home and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust" And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Lisa said...

Nice to know that you have felt a bit of patriotism, Joni. I am surprised that you never felt that feeling before. Didn't you ever sing patriotic songs in school and feel that thrill? I remember many times in my childhood feeling the joy of patriotism; it was a part of the culture then. I feel sad that it wasn't part of yours. Somehow I feel that I've failed you!

You say that our country is no more perfect than any other. Hmm. I agree that no country is perfect and all countries have uniquely wonderful things to offer. But hands down, the United States of America is the one with the most wonderful qualities. In my opinion there is no other nation that even comes close and I am not ashamed to say that it is the best country on the planet. I think that part of what is wrong with our country now is that we've lost a sense of patriotism. If every other country in the world is just as good or bad as we are, what is the point in fighting to keep our country and culture alive? The "Best Generation" came from a time when patriotism was perhaps at its peak- during World War II. Being raised by that generation, I feel much more loyalty to my country that the new generation who has been raised in an culture that focuses more on the US's faults than its virtues. I think that is sad.

I'm probably too late. I should have been saying things like this as you were growing up. I do admire and love your world view and that you realize there is more to life than the US, that you see good in other countries. That I am proud of, for sure. But let it be known in no uncertain terms that your mother is PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!!

Off my soap box

Joni said...

Mom -

I think it took living outside the country for a while for me to appreciate our own country more. You know me - growing up I was so stuck on the romance not just of other time periods but also completely different decades. It just took me some time.

I do think that the US is one of the greatest countries in the world. No doubt about that! But I also don't think we have a corner on all of the greatest things there are to offer. I think the structure of our government is the best, but culturally I think there are places where other countries have it better. Does that make sense?

K said...

I stood in a high place once, leaning against a rail, looking out over who knows how many miles of midwestern hills and fields. It was late in the season, and over the fields below, the wind bent wheat into sea swells. The ripples started below me and went their liquid journey all the way to where detail was lost. And I felt the great scale that is the land of America. Oh Beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain - the words just came. And for the first time, midwesterner that I was, I understood exactly what they meant.

I think I have always been moved by a hand over a heart. I think I have been moved by our few patriotic songs a million times. I cry now when soldiers pass me in parades. And I thank them in airports. i was a child of the 60s, and the politics confused me - now, I am not much confused.

My own wandering in England and France made my heart yearn for home. Good old American refrigerators. The charm of ancient hedgerows, of auld Welsh houses with their door stops neatly aligned with the tiny roads - the tiny alleys of the Shambles, the mysterious corners and crepes of Paris - I love them all, but not as much as I love the new, raw, awkward, too forward reality of the US.

Wales is for fairy tales. America is for astonishment. both have their place. But I'd rather live here -

K said...

Lisa -

Amen, sistah!

Eric Swedin said...

Nice blog, well written, and I spent way too much wandering around here.

Joni said...


Thanks for the compliment. Hope to see you back :)