One of the most important things I learned after marrying Chris Kyle was that patriotism isn’t an abstract concept. Sharing my life with a dedicated SEAL, meeting his fellow warriors as they went off to battle terrorists, I learned a lot about brotherhood and patriotism. I saw how deeply love for our country can inspire people. I realized it’s that love which leads them – and their families – to give the rest of us a blank check on their lives.
It’s an awesome, selfless love, one I am proud to say I share. There is so much to admire about this country: our freedoms, our history, our innovations. The great freedoms and privileges we learn about as school kids – freedom of speech, of religion, the right to bear arms, the guarantee of a fair trial – have all become very real for me over the past few years. America is certainly not perfect, but our lofty ideas about freedom and justice are a call to our higher selves, a reminder of whom we can be as well as tools for helping us achieve that potential.
But as important as those freedoms are, what I love most about America is much more basic. It’s our ability to come together in a crisis, our willingness to set aside differences and work together. Americans have a charitable spirit second to none, and a willingness to put themselves to work for others that leaves me in awe.
In the dark days after Chris was murdered, I experienced that can-do neighborliness and charity firsthand. Good friends dropped what they were doing and flew to be with me. People I barely knew did everything from washing my kids’ clothes to providing for my late husband’s memorial. Strangers planted flags in my yard; others lined the highway to say good-bye and give moral support on that long, sad ride to the cemetery.
What I love most about America is that -- even knowing the worst that people can do – we still have hope. We still believe that people will show their better sides. We still trust that they will come together in a crisis, that when all seems lost, they will rally to save the day.
Tragedy and disasters always bring out the best in Americans. From the San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 attacks, from house fires to flooding in the neighbor’s basement, Americans find a way to help each other in times of need. But calamity isn’t the only time we see that. Young men and women volunteering for the local ambulance company, church parishioners collecting food for the unfortunate, veterans running toy drives for “Santa” – every day, Americans go out of their way to do things for their neighbors. Small gestures –holding the door for an elderly woman at the library, a thank you to a veteran in a coffee shop – become big things as they are paid forward, kindness begetting more kindness, charity inspiring more charity.
Some would say that a lot of these things are just part of old-fashioned, small-town values. Yet I have seen time and again, as I struggled with my own personal tragedy, that they are neither old-fashioned nor confined simply to small towns. Charity and kindness—“neighborliness” – is alive and well in every part of this land. I have seen it in small town Texas; I’ve witnessed it on the streets of New York and L.A. Small gestures, tiny acts of kindness have not only helped me get through the worst days, but inspired me to do more for others.
There are cynics among us who will say, What chance do a few kind words have to turn someone’s life around? They’ll point out that even big gestures often fail. And they’ll note that after the first few days following a disaster, most of us go back to being “normal” – which by their lights means cranky, unforgiving, and un-neighborly.
There’s some truth in their objections. The world can be a horribly cruel place, as I certainly can attest. But what I love most about America is that, even knowing all that – even knowing the worst that people can do – we still have hope. We still believe that people will show their better sides. We still trust that they will come together in a crisis, that when all seems lost, they will rally to save the day.
After all, our history proves it.
It’s that profound optimism not just in ourselves but our potential selves that makes me so deeply proud to be an American. It’s a spirit I try not only to live up to, but share.
Taya Kyle is co-author of "American Wife: Love, War, Faith and Renewal" (William Morrow, May 2015) founded the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation in honor of her late husband Chris Kyle, legendary U.S. Navy SEAL and author of the bestsellers "American Sniper" and "American Gun." The foundation is devoted to strengthening the marriages of veterans and first responders. An active public speaker, Taya Kyle makes frequent appearances at fund-raisers and other events, inspiring others to find strength and persevere through struggles. She and her two children live in Texas.
Jim DeFelice is co-author, with Taya Kyle, of "American Wife: Love, War, Faith, and Renewal" (William Morrow, May 2015). He is also co-author of Chris Kyle's "American Sniper."