Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Home On American Soil

Those four words. So simple. So beautiful. So deep in meaning to the citizens of the United States of America.

Home is where you were raised. Home is the sounds of your house. It is the wind coming across the wheatfield or the symphony of the city streets.

Home is the way sunset looks across a Mongolian plain, or the sound of the water lapping against a Newfoundland riverbank.

Home is the way people dress where you were raised. Home is the music of the instruments they play, the sounds of your language on the radio, the foods of your holidays.

Home is home all over the world, in whatever country you live.

What is it like to be Italian, and come to your country and hear the rhythms of your language, when you have been long away? A friend from Australia told me once that when she got on the plane to home and heard Australian accents, it was like warm water washing over her, with peace.

Home is your country, your country’s cities, your ways of educating your children, your transportation methods. Home is your culture. And at its root, home is the soil of your country, for the soil determines the food that is native to your land, the shapes of its fields and hills, and the look of it: the trees and flowers and animals that live upon it.

Let us be human, and appreciate the importance of home to every single person on our planet.

We, in this country that is America, love our home land as you love yours. We are just human beings, and we love our country as simply and earnestly as the citizens of every country love their home, and we love returning to it.

When we come home, we leave the plane and put our bags down for a moment to rest. We will pick up our bags and continue on our journey, from the airport to a connecting flight or to the highway, from the highways to our county, to our township, to our street, to our front door. We will carry the bags a long way before we are fully home and can unpack them.

But there is one bag Americans never unpack. One bag that we carry with us always when we travel, and always as we live in our homes in this country. That package is our national awareness.

Our national awareness is complex and can be difficult to shoulder. Perhaps more than the citizens of most countries, we carry with us always the good and challenging parts of our heritage and our culture. Do we, upon meeting individual Chinese people, hold them subconsciously accountable for the sins of China upon human rights? No, I don’t believe we do that on an individual basis. On meeting a person from a repressive regime, do we assume they are an automatic extension of their country’s politics, its strengths and weaknesses? I don’t think so.

But it is a given that Americans are held accountable for America.

We are reviled, sometimes justifiably. Personally innocent or not, as Americans, we bear in the eyes of the world the sins of our brothers and sisters who have parochial attitudes and ignorant arrogance.
We are envied for our riches. Wealthy or not, we are seen as wealthy. Even when poor, we are seen as having limitless opportunity.

We are desired for our freedoms, and we are hated for them. Parts of the world wish they shared our government, our economic opportunities, our courts – and part of the world fears them, and tries to destroy them.

Our country bears the stress of feeling responsible for caring for the world. We know that when there is a big problem, all eyes look to us to see what we will do. If we do well, it is expected. But if our government as a whole or our citizens as individuals do less than well, or differently than we would have chosen, we are often damned as a whole in the eyes of the world. We – politically contentious, religiously fractious Americans - are seen as one cohesive group, and we are held jointly responsible.

We know this. It is our challenging gift, our burden to carry, in exchange for the right to be citizens of the United States. I wonder if other citizens of the world understand the weight of that individual little piece of the American Ideal that weighs always on our shoulders and in our hearts.

And when we do leave, wherever we go in the world, we carry that invisible burden. We carry the praise and fault the world finds with the US as its citizens. We shoulder it like one of our traveling bags. It is sometimes heavy, requiring work - but there is never the thought of not wanting the burden. We never unpack it, and we never put it down. Except once: the first moment back after long and weary travels.

As travelers worldwide feel upon reaching their own country again, we are deeply happy to be home.
As American travelers, we can put momentarily put down that other package.

We have carried it as travelers, and we will carry it as citizens living at home - but for one brief moment, as we cross back into our own country, as a kind of salute crossing back in, we can put it down in a moment of grateful welcome home.

We love our country with a passion that is part normal love of home…and part appreciation, bordering on reverence, for being a human piece of what the United States is to the world. Heroes come from every country in the world - but the United States is expected to step up regularly. We love our country for giving us, over and over, the opportunity to be heroic, to be expected-of…and to live larger by doing so.

Our soldiers? We send our children, our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and nieces and nephews and friends out as our military, carrying the supersized version of The American Ideal. Our soldiers do humanitarian work all over the globe, and they do the work required of them by acts of Congress and their squadron leaders. Our soldiers, more than any other American citizen, carry that invisible burden of world expectations, reverence and revilement.

Beyond the pledge of allegiance, they have literally sworn to lay down life and limb to care for our country and our citizens. They have seen death take people who wanted to come home as badly as they did. They have had to put their trust in leadership with whom they may or may not agree, and just do the work they’re told. They have worked really hard and have done without for months, far from those they love. Their chunk of The American Ideal is bigger and heavier than the ones we each have to carry.

If they are lucky, their whole squadron returns safe and sound. And on one fine day like today, a day of blizzards and record snows, the telephone rings unexpectedly early in the morning and we hear a beloved voice saying the sweetest, sweetest words: “I’m home.”

I don’t know what the future holds for our warring, willful species. I only knew in that moment one wonderful, wonderful thing: my son is home on American soil and he will be not be shot at any more.

All the air went out of me. I’ve cried off and on all day. And now, I can put down an invisible burden too, one I’ve carried for the last several months.

But I never have to pick this one up again.

Thanks for checking in,


  1. Simply beautiful...

    Welcome home to your son! And to all his brothers when they return home as well!

  2. This is beautifully and thoughtfully well written, thank-you. I am very happy for you all that your son is HOME~ praise God.You have written sentiments I have thought many, many times...our son has returned safely from 2 tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines ( he was a tank commander)I still feel very strongly the U.S. military is vastly under-appreciated world-wide for all they , and we, have given the world.