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It is our spirit, our often loud, even brash, over-the-top red, white and blue, go-getter, never-say-die attitude that makes us recognizable wherever we go. Just travel anywhere in the world and ask someone to guess where you are from. Trust me, they will know.
It is our history. No one thought the ragtag colonists could pull it off. It was unthinkable that the great British Empire could be beaten back and chased out of this land by a band of revolutionaries who would fight shoeless and frozen to the bitter –and I mean bitter – end. They were desperate. They wanted and needed their own country, a new start. And beyond all odds, they cobbled it together, starting from scratch.
A country whose Constitution found its roots in a pact written on the Mayflower by the first tenacious band of "America" seekers. They sought a new world, based on freedom. The freedom to pray and speak their minds without fear. The freedom to be innocent until proven guilty. The freedom to be equal under the eyes of the law regardless of class and religion, and eventually gender and color.
It is our compassion. Once established and fortified, this nation became a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many others. No nation helps more people around the globe. Our deep generosity is given so freely that it is simply expected, by others and by ourselves. From Ethiopia to Haiti to Japan … where there is tragedy, famine or disaster, we lead the way with private and public help.
It is our courage. The honorable volunteers who make up our military and take up the charge of freedom and protection from oppressors from the Germans in WWI to the Taliban. They are the heart and soul of the American spirit, going where no one wants to go, doing what needs to be done, never asking for our pity, humbly accepting our gratitude. They make us all proud to be Americans.
Also, the courage of our everyday heroes, the moms and dads, the firefighters, the rescue crews, the teachers and nurses. The many, many unsung heroes who ask nothing more than to do God’s work on earth.
To me, this is what it means to be American. We must endeavor as parents and as voices in the public sphere to remind ourselves who we are, and to be mindful of our intrinsic responsibilities. We are a beacon in the world, lighting the way – just as the lit beacons up the East Coast guided our scrappy militias nearly a quarter of a millennium ago. We are strong and compassionate.
That’s what makes us exceptional.
Happy birthday, you over-the-top, ragtag upstart! Keep working and shining and fighting and giving.
Be proud, proud, proud to be an American.