Are you proud to be an American?

(Originally published in 2011.)

You’re vulnerable at work, in bed, even watching the 6 o’clock news. “It” hit my brother while driving home from his office. He was jamming to his favorite station when they played a stirring rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung by a Marine chorus. He was completely overcome.

A college buddy sent me an email the morning after Game 1 of the first World Series after 9/11. He was hit watching the pregame and it lasted through the seventh inning stretch. His eyes were sore from watching the World Trade Center flag fly above the outfield.

I was hit one night driving in northern Virginia on the way to a church meeting. The radio began to play Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and a firetruck blazed past. I rolled to a stop at a well-traveled intersection as Greenwood crooned “… and I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free …”

I sang along, loudly, and waved at a smiling gawker in the car next to me. Just then my eyes caught a Bob Evans restaurant and an enormous, brightly lit American flag soaring boldly overhead. The lump in my throat was bigger than my dad’s old 12-pound bowling ball.

There I was, passing a dozen churches to attend the one that I choose for myself.

There I was, sitting in my car singing a song on one of thousands of freely operated radio stations.

All at once it happened. “It” whacked me across the back of my head like mom used to. But this was different. Now the tears were of joy, gratitude and pride. With little warning I’d been hit with the overwhelming realization that I am proud to be an American.

I thought how grateful I am that we elect our own leaders, peacefully and usually without controversy.

We practice religion where and when we like, or not at all. We worship Jesus Christ, Allah, Buddha or NFL football. You choose.

Young men and women risk their lives, their futures, in many cases their own opportunities to marry or have children. They risk the blessing of sitting on their front porch and watching the sunset as grandkids chase the neighbor’s cat across the front lawn.

Or, perhaps they would choose to do none of those things. But without a heartbeat they’ll have no choice.

Consider that, will you?

The fact that men and women of our military and emergency services risk so willingly every day, so bravely, is awe inspiring. They make Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman look weak.

The real soldiers are too big for comic book pages and movie screens.

Why do we sometimes take “It” for granted? Most of us can count on one hand the number of times we’ve ever read the U.S. Constitution. Many need no fingers at all. How about you?

Try reading that inspired document in a quiet place, with no modern distractions, and you might be surprised at how “It” hits you.

When was the last time you visited the gravesite of a fallen soldier? When was the last time you prayed for the members of our armed forces, whether or not you agree with our various military conflict? Any of these suggestions could invite “It” into your heart and mind.

How will you react when you’re hit?

Will you call your mother? Will you write someone serving in the military and thank them for the risks they take on your behalf? Will you pray?

Or maybe “It” has already gotten to you. Maybe your moment came while watching 9-11 footage or coverage this year’s anniversary. Perhaps “It” got you watching brave soldiers on television in the Middle East, or during the Olympic games every two years, or as a church choir sang patriotic hymns, or when you voted for the very first time.

Hopefully you’ve been hit many times. Perhaps you’re hit so often that the moments blend together into one mountainous, lifelong realization that you’re proud of whatever you might be.

Are you German? Be proud to be German. Are you Brazilian? Be proud to be Brazilian. Are you Japanese? Be proud to be Japanese.

Me? No apologies. I’m proud to be an American.

No matter what the calendar says.

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