The United States of America is an imperfect experiment, but a beautiful one. Let’s not lose sight of that, especially today.
America The Beautiful – My 2023 Memorial Day Reflection
On Saturday, I gathered at a friend’s house for an afternoon garden party. It has been a rather gloomy May in Los Angeles, but the marine layer burned off to a beautiful afternoon under a canopy of trees in his lush backyard.
The gathering there was so quintessentially American. A Vietnamese refugee who married a white man. A Japanese-American couple, one of whom was interned at Manzanar during World War II. Another white guy who married a Thai woman. The host was of Mexican and English descent; both of his parents were first-generation immigrants. A Mexican-American who married a white woman. And of course I married a German.
America is a diverse nation of immigrants and I am proud of that. And together, under the shade of trees, we sat and broke bread together, engaging in lively discussion and enjoying a potluck of food from cuisines around the world.
We took breaks during the meal to hear stories. This was my first time hearing an in-person account from Manzanar and I was transfixed as I learned about daily life in the camp and the profound contradiction of rounding up American citizens and seizing their property, but also asking them to fight for the very country that treated them as criminals.
And yet there was no bitterness. No hatred. That time in Manzanar was formative and even in the California desert, a community of Japanese-Americans rounded up and confined to a concentration camp turned that space into a lush and fertile garden not very different than the one we were sitting in. That did not justify the confinement, but this man made clear: “I am not a victim.”
Folks, there is so much wrong with America. There is so much we can complain about, no matter what side of the aisle we fall on. But once again, I turn to Bill Maher for great perspective (caution – language):
America is a bright shining city on the hill not because it is blameless, but because it has stood as a force for freedom, liberty, and human rights even as it has often fallen short of the lofty aspirations that form the basis of the American system.
Holding those who govern accountable is essential. So is never becoming complacent in pursing the goal to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
But I am incredibly thankful this day for those who gave their life in defense of the ideal that Americans of good conscience aspire to. I am reminded that “freedom is not free” is not a trite slogan, but something we can see by visiting any military cemetery. This country did not just spontaneously generate from an ether of primordial ooze.
So keep fighting the good fight, but spare me the tripe about what a horrible country America is. It’s not. Even today, it is a beacon of hope in a dark world. I see that every time I travel.