September 18, 2001
Late on Tuesday afternoon, I experienced a new emotion: patriotism.
As a young American, I never felt this before, this strange
swelling sense of pride, of national identity and commonality.
I've grown up thinking of patriotism as something sort of
quaint and old fashioned, a feeling which is exclusive to
an older generation. Patriotism is also something I identified
from a distance as dangerous, an emotion which is easily exploited
and manipulated to cause people to do things they wouldn't
normally do. In my ignorance, I looked down just a little
bit on people who identified themselves as "patriots" - I
didn't understand what they were getting at, but it didn't
look like anything positive to me.
All through this week I grappled with this new feeling, trying
to identify it and understand it. First it seemed like pure
and simple pride; watching the news and seeing countless people
trying to give blood, rescue workers who risked their lives
for the sake of others, and a myriad of small human gestures
of kindness and support, I felt so proud of those people that
it was nearly inexpressible.
Later, I realized, it wasn't just pride. I loved these people
too, for standing together in the face of adversity and showing
the best of human nature instead of the worst. In the days
that followed, I heard more accounts of nastiness, of meanness
and cruelty. However, these few sad and pathetic people who
have allowed their better nature to be subsumed by blind anger
are the exceptions, and my heart fills with love and pride
again to hear people condemning the actions and words of those
who have responded to last Tuesday's act of hate with more
Along with love and pride, I have a new sense of national
identity. I am an American, and that really means something
to me now. It does not mean, as I feared it might before I
understood patriotism, that I feel anything negative towards
the rest of the world. This strange new feeling isn't exclusive
- it's inclusive. By finding an individual spirit of commonality
with my fellow Americans (and I never thought I'd use such
a phrase), I find myself even more moved by gestures of support
from overseas. I am deeply touched and grateful that we are
not alone in this time of need. Not only do we Americans suddenly
find ourselves standing together, but the rest of the world
stands with us.
I don't know if my newfound patriotism will last. The thought
of war, especially a prolonged war against targets we haven't
even identified yet, scares me very much. I feel that some
sort of action is necessary in reaction to the disaster on
Tuesday, but I honestly don't know what that action should
be. I have a lingering sense of doubt that our leaders don't
really know what it should be either, and that we are moving
swiftly on a course that seems best to most, but may not be
best in actuality.
Even with all these doubts and fears, I hope my newfound
patriotism will linger. I'm surprised by it, delighted to
find that I am proud to be an American, that old phrases which
seemed cliché before strike a chord with me now. I am not
blinded by my burgeoning love of this country and the people
in it - I can still see the ways we can go wrong, the ways
we have gone wrong, and the traps and pitfalls which some
may blindly fall into. I hope others will let their love of
America show while keeping their eyes open for trespasses
upon the freedoms and the spirit that makes America great.
This is a time for vigilance and support, for unity and cooperation
without blind allegiance to leaders; after all, that's what
America is all about.