For months now, thoughts about my homeland have been crossing my mind. The events that take over the daily headlines have me contemplating America in what she used to be and what she has become. With these thoughts, mixed feelings are felt and levels of hope and despair fluctuate.
On Sunday, I watched a lot of football. Three times I stood in my living room as dozens of individuals stretched out a flag covering the entire square footage of the playing field. Three times I listened through a moment of silence for the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed by a performance of our national anthem. Three times I got choked up.
Only two times I felt embarrassed. When the feelings of silliness began to rise during the third occasion, they were sent packing with one simple thought: it’s okay to love my country.
I’ve noticed a tendency toward extremes in people’s statements on America lately. So much of it goes all the way back to our collective reaction to September 11th. That attack felt intensely personal even to those of us who did not know individuals lost that day. I remember the sensation of protectiveness, of “how dare you hurt what is mine!” A new era of patriotism was ushered in, justifiably and beneficially so at the time. The experience awakened in many of our hearts a hibernating bear of attachment to our country.
As is perhaps bound to happen though, the fierce plunge into patriotism was taken to an extreme by some. A refusal to hear a word against America and its culture; a disdain for most other nations and nationalities; a fear of anything that appeared outside the realm of what we now held so dear about our homeland. Then the last 10 years or so saw a whiplash reaction; a violent swing to the other end of the spectrum where a high regard for our nation is ridiculed as blind and foolish.
The extremes frustrate me. I see patriotism as a genuine love of home and country. Genuine love is unconditional but it is not naive. Maybe the extremes are rooted in a misunderstanding of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally is to love them through anything and everything. Highs and lows, achievements and mistakes, rights and wrongs; love them through it all. Unconditional love is not dependent on the other person earning the love. It is dependent on the giver of love choosing to offer it no matter what. However – and this is an important ‘however’ – unconditional love is not a refusal to recognize flaws. It is not turning a blind eye to what needs to change in the beloved. It is loving them despite the existence of those flaws and seeking productive ways to help them make changes in their best interest.
The extremes aren’t authentic love. One is claiming that because you love your country, anyone who has anything to say against her be damned. The other is a refusal to love her so blindly but then just as blindly treating her as wholly unlovable. Neither are true patriotism.
It’s okay to be moved by the sight of soldiers, firemen, policemen, and athletes all holding a football field sized flag. It’s also okay to look at the political system with a critical eye. It’s okay to oppose a federal law that contradicts what you know to be morally good. It’s also okay to teach your children to be proud to be American.
It’s okay to love your country.
The scent of warm pear bread – cinnamon and sweetness – hangs in the air of my kitchen. There are dishes to wash and a floor to sweep but they can wait. There is a to-do list beside this computer, its uncrossed items lifting off the page to remind me there is still much to be done. However, much can wait. Even as I assess whether these are real contractions I’m experiencing or simply more Braxton Hicks after a long, tiring day, I am pulled toward quiet thoughts. There simply haven’t been enough of them lately. They are stolen, pushed aside, stepped over, or buried under heaps of mental activity. They wait. They wait for me.
Do yours do likewise? Are the edges of your mind lined with subtle, patient, quiet thoughts? Wallflowers in the spinning ballroom of your head. Do they wait for you to sit out a dance?
Mine wait. Patiently, perseveringly, but not permanently. Eventually, they do go. They slip regretfully out the door like the party guest who will not intrude upon others’ conversations but could’ve been the highlight of the evening if anyone had taken a moment to look them in the eye and invite them into their circle.
During weeks of tiredness, my body longing for sleep by seven p.m yet not finding it until much later and then only intermittently, my brain is aching for energy. I get caught up in despondent reflections of ‘I used to write,’ and ‘I used to teach,’ and so on. Not that they last long. They are overrun by the joy I have at what my life has become. Wife, stepmother, and now mother. I feel my child turn over inside me and I imagine holding him in my arms. How can such regrets withstand it? The negativity is polished away by my blessed reality and what remains is only the root of the regrets. That I do still long to be a writer, a teacher, a thinker! That those should be woven into marriage and motherhood for as many days as I’m given. It’s the figuring out how that is the challenge. Challenge does not equal impossibility though. In fact, a challenge must be possible to achieve or it is merely nonsense and nothing else.
Yes, this is a genuine challenge. One that I will take up each day – sometimes setting it back down after only a moment and a sigh, certainly, but other times engaging it with strength and wit and success. It’s my belief that the engagement must begin with quiet thoughts: the ones waiting on me, eager but calm, ready to pull me deeper into truth, beauty, and holiness. Anything good must begin there.
“What is on the way?” you may be wondering. A baby! Well on his way, actually! A few months into our marriage, Matt and I were thrilled to discover we were expecting a child. Timothy Michael is due October 4th and I’m having trouble believing how quickly that day is approaching. I can hardly wait to hold my son in my arms. To touch his skin, hear his voice, stroke his hair, kiss his nose. He is in constant motion lately, a thrilling sensation of flips and kicks and stretches.
I’ve had a healthy, ordinary-in-the-best-way pregnancy. Predictable symptoms, expected progressions, and no scares. About the biggest complaints as this third trimester gets underway are hatred for humidity and a longing to be able to sleep on my back once in a while. And a wistful pining for a chilled glass of moscato, I suppose.
In the 10 months since I became a wife, I have frequently thought about getting back to blogging. Of course, it was usually a passing thought in between “what should I make for dinner” and “maybe I can get these last boxes unpacked this week.” (They’re still not unpacked.) Then came pregnancy and instead of there being one or two things I could more sensibly do instead of blogging, there were three or four or more.
Oh, silly me. Falling into that age old trap of practically every writer who ever lived. There are always things to do instead of write! Always! My first book didn’t get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it. All my prior blog posts weren’t written out of boredom. They were written because I needed to transfer the words from my brain to the world.
So, I hope you’ve missed me. I’m back. Giant belly blocking the keyboard and all.
It’s Spring, it’s Spring, it’s Spring! I don’t know that “Spring” is supposed to be capitalized. I’ve never been too good at remembering rules like that. Now that I think about it, I habitually capitalize Spring and Fall, but not winter or summer. You’re welcome to analyze that if you wish. Spring, of all the seasons though, deserves capitalization. It deserves announcement and fanfare. Even with the mildness of our winter this year, there was enough dreariness to warrant this excitement at Spring’s arrival. It’s a season of dewy freshness. Even the mud seems friendly and encouraging this time of year. Now, I am in Wisconsin, which means that this series of sunny, warm days could very well be followed by new snowfall or a good ol’ freezing rain storm. Our temps could drop back down, forcing me to put that jacket and those gloves back on. Alas, there is no denying this fickleness of midwestern springtime. The sunshine is so damn wonderful though that even those lingering reaches of winter hold no sway. Windows demand opening, flowers demand blooming, birds demand feeding and fresh air demands deep breathing. I begrudge them none of their demands, for it is Spring and it is impossible not to feel generous toward all.
Last night I began a post on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It was left unfinished and I expected to wrap it up today. The words were full of hopeful things… the mystery of God’s masterful ways, the beauty of Christ’s humility, the wonder of what God can do when we are faithful even in suffering, the rich abundance of living as victors in Christ. I meant to finish it for you, whomever you are, but I find that I can’t. Not today. Today has morphed into a Jonah day. The morning brought stress and tiredness and a wish to hide away. Then the afternoon arrived with news of a family friend’s very unexpected and difficult to fathom death. I’ve kept my head bowed low over my workspace to hide the tears that keep falling each time it creeps across my thoughts. And so I find I can’t wrap up last night’s thoughts on the Triumph of the Cross. And yet the Triumph of the Cross is the only thing that matters on a day like this one. The only thing.