My earliest gut-level feeling of “I’m American” happened in Russia. It was the Soviet Union then. This was 1984 and the Cold War was still on. I was on a high school study program spending two weeks in what was then Leningrad. Americans and Russians rarely got to meet each other in those years, and in my memory our little group was received either demigods for being from the land that stood up for freedom, or as devils, with all the ugly sides of America served to us like the ubiquitous cups of black tea.
The experience didn’t make me feel patriotic, exactly, but certainly aware of great expectations that come with being American.
Even with the bad parts, I feel lucky I happen to be American. I love the vastness, the huge range of life experiences being American includes, the quirks and possibilities that come with the culture of this country. I laugh at myself for this, but when I return from time abroad I get a kind of warm feeling when the border guard says “Welcome home.” I respond to some of the symbols that are used to promote patriotism. I like the stirring songs that call up the idealism of the U.S. Friends and I biked through midwestern wheat fields singing “Oh Beautiful” at the top of our lungs. As a kid, I dressed up as a red, white and blue fire cracker for our neighborhood Fourth of July parade.
The American Heritage Dictionary says patriotism means love of and devotion to one’s country. A patriot, it says, loves and defends his or her nation, and being patriotic is defined as feeling or expressing that love.
What does patriotism mean to you? Is it connected to the military, as it is for this group? Is it tied to peace and the prosperity of small business? Is patriotism the “last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Samuel Johnson claimed? Is it “looking out for yourself by looking out for your country,” as Calvin Coolidge is credited as saying? Is it a “splendid thing” as Pablo Casals said, before adding, “But why should love stop at the border?” Does patriotism, as the German poet Goethe asserted, ruin history?
When have you felt most patriotic — to America or to another country? How do you show it? When have you felt least patriotic?
You can post your stories here of course. Or try this: We’ve set up a voice mailbox where you can record your stories. We’ll choose some to share on the program when it airs July 4th. Here’s the number to call - 503-445-1892. You can call anytime.