What is America?: Thoughts from Someone Who's Seen It All, Idaho to Maine

Updated: Jan 13

I have seen Rattlesnake Country and been zero miles from Wall Drug; small towns filled with Pelicans and pizza by the Great Lakes. I have stumbled on a former campsite of George Washington while on a casual bike ride, read a copy of the Declaration of Independence, watched the ocean crash against the rocky shore, a lighthouse standing proud beside. I have woken up in unearthly forests, watched heavenly sunrises. My sister stood chest high in the Chesapeake bay near where our nation began. I've stared out at the graveyard in Salem, wondering about the witches prematurely buried. I have seen Old Faithful for the first time. I've been scared of bears for the first time. Seen a blueberry field in autumn for the first time. You'd think I have all the answers. Instead, I have more questions.

I have questions; what is America? What is this place where I was born? Is it beautiful? Certainly, everything I've seen since September has been, beautiful beyond my every dream.

But is America beautiful?

Our history is marred with tragedies, and we have come to a nationwide reckoning. How do I admire the ingenious architecture and stunning scenery at Monticello knowing the man who created it once said all men were equal and yet held 6,000 people in bondage? How do I soak in the views of the Black Hills in South Dakota when I know the brutal struggle the Native Americans engaged in against the settlers taking their land from under their feet? When I know that even still today, Native women are much more likely to become Missing and Murdered than I will ever be?

When we hung witches in a frenzy and then later called them heroes, where we wiped the land clean of the bison and then tried to protect them, where Vietnam veterans threw their medals at the White House because the things they'd had to do in the name of God and Country where unbearable and they had had enough?

What am I supposed to think, when we call ourselves Christian and then proceed to deny the humanity of an immigrant, deny the humanity of people who are LGBTQ, deny the humanity of so many who are created In God's Image?

How do I call America beautiful, then?

How do I call America beautiful when every inch of that beauty is steeped in pain?

Perhaps I must reconcile the good with the bad. And realize that nothing is ever perfect.

The America I was proud of as a child, the Pilgrim's pride, the First Thanksgiving, Old Glory, Stars and Stripes, Pledge of Allegiance... it all means something different now.

I was taught that America was the only and the best free country. I was taught that America was a place where everyone is free to be themselves and pursue that elusive Dream. I was taught that red, white and blue are sacred colors; I was taught that America is perfect.

America is not perfect.

Neither is the world.

Nor am I.

We all have so much room to grow. So much progress to make. So much to look forward to.

Nothing will ever change until we all accept that we are not perfect, but we are not totally hopeless, either.

I see so much potential in America. I have so much faith that we can turn things around. That we can really be what I was taught, in my childhood, we already were.

Or maybe just get a bit closer.

Is America beautiful?

I would say we are.

I see beauty in the faces of our people, a diverse people, a people who are every kind of people you could possibly imagine and more. That is beautiful.

I see beauty in our optimism, our continued ability to believe, no matter what, things will get better.

And of course, I see beauty in Old Faithful, the bay, the blueberries and the bears.

Is America beautiful?

Are we?

I have seen beauty

From "Sea to Shining Sea"

Autumn leaves, mountain range

a lighthouse on the beach

and I have seen heartbreak

A wave of tragedy

The pain in their eyes

disenfranchised and unreached

Today I don't know how to feel

Today I don't know how to feel

What is America?

What is America?

If we can wear our vibrant

colors with pride

Why then can we not provide

For the hungry, and the sick, and the dying

Did not Jesus ask those he guides

to love an orphan, a foreigner, and a dead man's wife?

Today I don't know how to feel

Today I don't know how to feel

What is America?

What is America?

I have seen Old Faithful rise

And stood under endless Dakota skies

I have watched our leaders cheat and lie

And seen beloved children die

A gunshot to their chest

Today I don't know how to feel

Today I don't know how to feel

What is America?

What is America?

I've heard endless singing of a bird

and seen smoke-bright campfires burn

I've seen our people rise above

attempt to shape a land of love

But I have seen rocks and hurled hate

And I've seen so many take the poisoned bait

And I am ashamed

Today I don't know how to feel

Today I don't know how to feel

What is America?

What is America?


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