Kathryn Jean Lopez writes today of some bracing and beautiful tales of Americans who know what it is both to enjoy and to fight for their freedom. I am speaking, of course, of Americans who have had to emigrate here because they were born in places that were hostile to the spirit of freedom and to the manful capacity of human beings to govern themselves. Their gratitude reminds us--even as their courage and determination ought, also, to shame us--that we are among the fortunate of the earth. In our freedoms and in our remarkable Constitution (designed, as it was, to preserve those freedoms), we have been given something rare and precious in the history of world.
But we native-born Americans tend, often, to forget this. Maybe we get lost in our charming but naïve idealism--finding every imperfection intolerable and a cause for damning the whole project. Maybe we forget how difficult (nay, seemingly impossible) the original task of securing that freedom was. In the face of imperfection and our feeling that we deserve its opposite, we don't remember to appreciate real achievement--as if doing so might suggest that we are satisfied. Or maybe, conversely, some of us actually are satisfied; too satisfied. Perhaps we get complacent in a smug assumption that history has progressed (or is progressing) to a point where the rights of man can never safely be denied--at least not here. Maybe we think we can afford a little intellectual laziness because tyranny can't touch us.
In reality, there is something of truth--both of the ugly and of the beautiful sort--in both of these attitudes. There is something very American in both and for all the trouble they sometimes bring, I wouldn't will either away. But it is also true that by themselves (and even working together) these attitudes are insufficient to the preservation of our liberties. We shouldn't be satisfied with imperfection and we can't pretend that we are above reproach--but, darn it, we need to get a grip. We need to be grateful as we recall how remarkable our situation is. Forgetting to be grateful is the same thing, really, as forgetting to love and life becomes unbearable when we do that. True love is an action, not a sentiment. And all love that is not divine love begins in gratitude. Gratitude, in turn, ought to inspire us to understand, to preserve, to protect and, above all, to bring honor to our beloved. We have to remember to be grateful for America.
Reminding us of this is what Americans who were born in the wrong place do better than anyone nurtured in the relative freedom and prosperity of this country can do.
If after reading Lopez's column you can do with more of this medicine (and it's difficult to OD on this stuff), remind yourself of this, and this and, of course, this.