How I Learned to Love America
I’m the kind of girl who had nightmares about Osama bin Laden before 9/11. A news fiend and a scaredy cat from an early age, my first nightmare featuring OBL crept into my REM cycle at no less than seven years old. When I was little, my nighttime prayers took about 15 minutes as I asked God to protect myself and my loved ones from every conceivable natural disaster. (I lived in a small, suburban town in Minnesota, so the only ones I really should have worried about were blizzards and tornadoes. Alas, hindsight is 20/20).
Since then, I have moved away from prayer. Not necessarily because I wanted to, but mostly because I wasn’t finding the inspiration or belief in something larger than myself that I always thought people found in prayer. The Catholic diocese in North Dakota I was “educated” in met most of my questions with, “Don’t ask questions. This is the way it is.” I was labeled a subversive and almost didn’t pass confirmation, despite the fact that I got the highest grade on the “test.” When I brought my insecurities about religion up to my mom a few years later, she said, “Molly, when you’re on a plane and it hits turbulence or starts dropping, you’re going to want to believe in something. You’re going to want to believe someone is up there praying for you.”
She’s right. Of course I want to believe in something larger than myself. But to me, believing in something just to make myself feel better didn’t seem like a compelling reason. But as I grew up, as I changed locations and loved and lost and learned and laughed, I realized that I did believe in something larger than myself. I believed in the human spirit, the dynamic tenacity of the American Dream that inspired thousands of people to flee oppression and fear in pursuit of something bigger, bolder, and more significant than themselves.
That belief, of course, was broken on Monday. When I see a heart-breaking tragedy like what happened in Boston, when I see what occurred at Newton no less than four months ago, when I see shootings at institutions of higher education and Batman premieres, I can’t help but lose faith in the only spirit that has ever compelled me to believe there is something greater than myself — the human spirit. How do you keep the faith when what you do believe in destroys itself?
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I received invitations to see a pre-screening of PBS’ Constitution USA at the United States Capitol. Constitution USA is a documentary featuring Peter Sagal of “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” as he travels across America by motorcycle, seeking to discover the ways in which the U.S. Constitution unites and destroys us as a nation. At 5 PM on Tuesday, right before we were about to leave for the screening, neither of us were feeling up to it. After an emotional night of gluing ourselves to Twitter and staring at cable news, we were both exhausted and just wanted a break.
Finally, two minutes before the event was to start, we decided to go.
“Constitution USA,” said Representative Betty McCollum Davis (D-Minn.), as she introduced the film, “is meant to be an exploration of what it means to be a citizen in this country. What it means to be a country, wrought from differences, that has not only survived but has flourished.”
As Representative McCollum continued her introduction, I read the letters inscribed on the outside of the auditorium. The Congressional Auditorium, a space normally reserved for national security briefings for the entire delegations of the House and the Senate, was inscribed with achingly familiar letters that had been committed to my memory far before the images of terrorism had invaded my dreams.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag,” I whispered. “Of the United States of America.”
Constitution USA, a film featuring the best and worst of the American Dream, reaffirmed everything that made me believe in America in the first place. It was a beautiful celebration of what America is: a patchwork quilt of people with different nationalities, beliefs, incomes, sexualities and interests. A people that sometimes fervently disagree, a people that often say terrible things about and to each other, but a people, nonetheless, united by one driving bond: We are the children of a revolution.
“Only in America will you find a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim standing together and demanding the same things,” said a Somalian-born Minneapolis resident during the film. “Only in America will they be standing together and protecting each other.”
Whoever attacked Boston, whoever attacked my friends, whoever attacked the American dream, will not succeed. They will not succeed because the American Dream is bigger than you, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than ourselves. The American Dream is about the beauty of debate, the fervor of a revolution and the spirit of a people engaged, educated and passionate enough to fight for what they believe in.
I believe in America.