(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.