Thursday, May 6, 2010

Humbled to be an American

On April 14th, my brother-in-law, Nate, began a 1-year tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is, at the moment, still on US soil, doing final prep before heading out. He will spend ten months in one of the most unsettled regions in the world.

When the family gathered for dinner on the 13th to say our good-byes, the anxiety was palpable, the sadness all-pervading. But there was also a sense of awe at the level of courage, commitment and humility in Nate’s decision to serve his country in whatever way they asked.

I have been thoughtful these past weeks about the sacrifices Nate and his wife and children are making for this duty. I have been accused, in the past, of not being a patriot because of my left-of-center political views. This is ridiculous, of course, but it bears exploration at a time when questions about US military action in the world have landed so close to my own backyard. I dug through my journals and found this entry, below. I thought I would share it, in honor of Nate’s selfless service to us all.


July 23, 2004

I’ve had an epiphany. I think I finally understand what it is, exactly, that bothers me so much about America’s national pride. About flags on t-shirts and “God Bless America” on bumper stickers and “Proud to be an American” on the radio.

The truth is, I am a patriot. There are those who might think otherwise, as I openly criticize our current (Bush) administration, disapprove of the war in Iraq, and strongly support the separation of church and state, among other things. But I love being an American. I thoroughly and heartily enjoy my freedom to speak my mind, worship my God, educate my children, and share in the plenty that America offers.

But proud? No.


I am humbled to be an American. I am humbled that 200 years ago, a group of intelligent people had the foresight to write as beautiful and flexible a document as the US Constitution. I am humbled that men and women have died because they believed in the freedoms laid out in that document. I am humbled knowing that many of them died unwillingly, pawns in a shameful, imperialistic game played by powers far beyond them, but that all, nonetheless, fought for the right reasons.

I am humbled because here I sit, reaping the unbelievable benefits of someone else’s hard work and sacrifice.

Proud to be an American?


Ashamed, often, of what a few, powerful men do in the name of American pride. Ashamed of the reputation our country has created in the global community—a John-Wayne-esque go-it-alone bully who will stop at nothing—and I mean nothing—to increase its wealth and influence and domination of others. Ashamed, really of that whole concept of “National Pride.”

When did pride become a virtue? If I’m not mistaken, it’s still listed as one of the “seven deadly sins.” Pride is dangerous. Pride is blind to truth. Pride in a person makes him arrogant and unlikeable. Pride in a country leads to genocide. Did we learn nothing from the Nazis in World War II?

Humility. Now there’s an asset. Humility leads to sharing and cooperation. It leads to seeing others as they truly are. It leads to honesty and an inability to place yourself above another person—especially for things you could not possibly have earned for yourself: white skin, Christian beliefs, heterosexual leanings.

I am humbled by all those who have gone before so that I might sit here and muse on the awesome blessing of my very existence in this time and place. And I sincerely believe that if everyone waving an American flag was humbled, rather than proud, to be an American, this country would be a truly great nation.


Thanks, Nate.



  1. Wonderfully put - better than I could have said it. Dad

  2. I think that's the best comment anyone has ever given me. :)

  3. Rebekah, I love how you described the constitution as “beautiful and flexible” – so true! The founders of this nation were amazingly brilliant. And, I appreciate how you framed up how pride is actually destructive – that being “proud” to be an American is actually harmful. I have been in a similar position as you where I can’t claim to be “proud” to be an American – and am therefore perceived as unpatriotic and/or unloyal and/or unappreciative; but all of those simply aren’t the case. I’m honored to be American.