You and I have a complicated relationship.
You gave me my citizenship when I was born. In fact, my dad was serving at an army base when I arrived one freezing winter day in New Jersey. My passport is American navy blue. I belong to you, whether I like it or not.
Yet for over half my life, I've lived in other countries. Pieces of those places have latched themselves onto me. I've never wholly and completely been one of your own, which has left me feeling like an outsider. But like the astronauts who have the privilege of seeing our planet as a small blue marble, I've had the privilege of seeing you, for many years, from the outside. A different perspective is always a privilege.
Back when I was younger and much more of a black-and-white thinker, I have to admit that mostly I was just critical of you. I focused only on your negatives, and other countries seemed much more unique and interesting. So even while I reaped enormous benefits from belonging to you, I distanced my identity away from you. But now that I'm older and wiser? Well, how I feel about you is much more complicated.
We're visiting America this summer, and the other night, we were driving up a windy stretch of mountain highway, and the traffic stopped dead. We could tell that just around the bend ahead, a bad accident had happened. But as we sat and waited behind the thousands of other brake lights impatiently twinkling in the night, a looming light appeared in the sky. And we watched, in awe, as a helicopter circled slowly and then landed. It was only fifteen minutes later that it rose into the air again and the traffic started moving.
And I thought, This is why America is amazing.
Then I thought, That's a new perspective for me.
I've always been critical of your consumerism and hoarding, your ability to produce so much junk that even developing countries don't want the excess. Yet I also see your capitalism and how it has brought an unprecedented standard of living to millions of people, and I want that for other countries too.
I despair over your debauchery--you fuel a massive, perverse online industry that exploits women and children, college campuses that are nothing but one big party, and sexuality that has hijacked how we define identity. Yet I see your freedom--to own property, to start churches, to send your daughters to college, even to publicly criticize your president--freedom that most in the world don't even dream of. And I realize that this freedom is inextricably connected to allowing people to make bad choices.
I hate that I have to tell my 11-year-old African son that when he is in America, he can't put up his hoodie in public. I hate that I have to explain to him why. Yet, I love that I could take my daughter (who happens to be an American immigrant) to the brilliant musical Hamilton and she could see a stage full of actors portraying the Founding Fathers--and who share her skin tone.
I love how you are one nation made up of people from many nations, a country founded on ideals, not ethnic groups. Yet sometimes it remains an ideal, not a reality, as fear and complacency keep neighborhoods and churches in their own separate corners. But other times, it doesn't, and that gives me hope.
I used to view your suburbs with disdain, with their soul-sucking uniformity and monotony. Now I see how those neat little lines of houses represent a miracle in human history--millions of ordinary people living with plumbing, electricity, security, independence. How easy it is for me to forget how I benefited from that "ordinary" life--riding bikes around my parents' cozy cul-de-sac without any worry that I might not eat that night, or that soldiers might come and burn it all down.
It's easy to crave adventure and uniqueness from within the safe confines of that blue American passport. Yes, I love living overseas, and it is a privilege. But you know what I've realized? It's even more of a privilege to enjoy the benefits of being American while living overseas.
And that humbles me. It makes me less critical and more thankful.
You, my country, are complicated. But so is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a fallen world.