Rachael’s dog is named ‘Freedom Rings.’ Her phone cover blings with the Stars and Stripes. She volunteers with Wounded Warriors. Her Facebook shares are always about firefighters and Korean War vets and the kind of heroes who wear medals not jerseys.
Rachael is such a patriot that if you saw a teeny tiny red, white and blue bikini in the in Target you would want to buy it for her baby — who will probably recite the Pledge of Allegiance before she can identify even a single Disney princess.
I must disappoint Rachael terribly. Because I am not much of a patriot, really. When Blue Star Families asked about how my patriotism had changed since my husband started deploying (part of the deployment project in connection with their E-book Everyone Serves,) I found myself wishing they were asking Rachael, not me.
Rachael would know the right answer. She would have a substantial voting record. She would be the poster child for one of those “how to be a patriot” articles that tell you to join the military and memorize the Bill of Rights and know our history and thank a veteran and fly the flag correctly.
Rachael’s natural and genuine love of country makes me feel like I am missing something. I’m like the housewife in Desperately Seeking Susan who buys Susan’s jacket because she wants that something that Susan has.
I ought to have that kind of patriotism. As the wife and mother and daughter and sister of military members, my eyes ought to glow with un-shed tears of patriotism every time I see a flag.
When did I lose that? I was the third grader who had to pick the red, white and blue Spider bike with streamers for the Bicentennial. I knew the Preamble of the Constitution by heart. I could sing every verse of America the Beautiful.
And then I went to college. A zealous American history professor spent my freshman year teaching us that patriotism was the same thing as nationalism and everything the United States does is born of selfishness and greed. I was so jaded I got an A in that class.
And then I married a Navy guy. I learned to cry every time a ship glided into port bearing the American flag.
I learned to sob when the schoolchildren at our base in Japan sang “Proud To Be An American” at school assemblies.
When 9/11 happened and the rest of the country became patriotic, I went red, white and blue right along with them.
And now? Now I just don’t know. Sometimes I feel like my patriotism has become tainted over a decade of war fought by so very few. I fear that, like Christmas has become too commercialized, patriotism has been too processed and packaged until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.
But it means something to Rachael. Patriotism is this ideal that she builds her life around. She has that firm belief that we Americans are lucky. We Americans must give back. We Americans owe something to the world. She thinks that when people have died so that you can be free that ought to mean something.
Her eyes glow when she talks like this. So I stand really close to her and hope some of that rubs off on me.
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