The late comedic legend, Robin Williams, has a standup routine where he dresses as an American flag in a television special called “I Love Liberty.” In it, he brings to life the world’s foremost symbol of freedom and democracy in a way only he can. With intentional lines providing deep perspective presented as off-the-cut humor, he truly embodies my idea of patriotism.
He says, “you know I’ve been made into everything from designer jeans to T-shirts… but people haven’t always been respectful of me… people try and spit on me, trample me, burn me… but I don’t let it get me down.”
His words pierce as a timeless reminder that what we believe and how we go about fulfilling those beliefs have and will always be challenged; from outside and from within. At the end, he simply states, “look at it this way, don’t think of it as saluting me, think of it as saluting yourselves… I’m just a flag, a symbol, you’re the people… [and] long may you wave.”
I believe the point Williams so thoughtfully and hilariously made was as simple as, “the arguments we have are only as important as the care we have for one another.”
This belief, that our passionate differences should invoke our patriotism rather than dispel it, is exactly how I see the best of us. Fighting for something, rather than against it, is how a country like ours was born. And how it’ll continue to prosper.
As a Marine, I deployed to not one, but two foreign wars. For that, people will almost universally call me a patriot. But I see patriotism differently. I do believe myself to be a patriot. Not because of the uniform on my back, now collecting dust in my basement, but because I get up every day willing and ready to provide for my family, contribute to my community and help those who may be in need.
America is the greatest country in the world. Not because of the strength of our military, nor the size of our economy. No, not even because of our free and fair system of government.
We are the greatest country in the world simply because we almost all came from somewhere else. We look different, speak different languages, eat different food, pray at different alters, and vote for different politicians.
Yet, I believe we share an inherent love for one another. When someone stumbles in front of us on the sidewalk, we instinctively pick them up.
I know this because you all picked me up when I lost my legs. You brushed off my back, and said, “come on, get in there and finish this, you’re an American… a patriot.”
We know deep within our souls that this country is special, and for that, we all contribute to, and share in, it’s successes.
The true reward for patriotism is the freedoms it guarantees.
The true recognition of our sacrifices is the title itself: American.
This week I and my colleagues have the distinct honor of recognizing some of the heroic patriots that live among us. They didn’t ask for a medal, or a title or even to be seen, they just acted with the intent to help and with an innate love for their neighbor. A love I believe lives in every American heart.
Things sometimes seem bleak and feel dire; you may feel like hope is gone and the future is fleeting. But know this, these times only exist because we have the courage and faith to let opposing ideas be heard, to let patriotic energy form and spill out into the streets.
You only hear of bad actions because we let the light of truth shine, and you only go to bed at night safe because we chose to fight, defend and sacrifice for one another.
There is no guarantee in a society this free. But I’m willing to bet quite a bit that we will endure, and live on, because that’s exactly what Americans do.
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