Being a proud American is an undeserved blessing


By Reggie Ponder

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I am thankful to be an American.

Thinking about the impulse of pride as it relates to patriotism, I identify with the grand swell of “I'm proud to be an American” in the chorus of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which in recent years has become one of my favorite songs, yet I have to admit that pride is an uneasy fit for my deepest feelings of patriotism.

I can say that I am proud to be an American because I am proud – but sort of second-hand proud – of the sacrifices so many Americans have made to make this country what it is and to preserve the liberty that makes this nation such a great place to live.

My grandfather is just one of those whose sacrifice and commitment I cherish. I'm certainly proud of him, and all of them, but it's not pride in the typical sense.

And that's because I haven't really done anything to be proud of in this connection.

When I think about things that make me proud, typically they are accomplishments that I have had a hand in pulling off. I'm proud of the Chowan Herald from week before last and proud of the series of articles I wrote in 1988 for the Franklin Times that garnered an award from the N.C. Press Association. I'm proud of dozens of smaller things that point to a willingness to commit to a challenging task and see it through.

I'm proud of those accomplishments in the same way, and roughly to the same degree, that I'm ashamed of the times I have let people down by doing less than my best or just not maintaining the necessary level of concentration long enough to get done what I needed to do.

When I think about pride this way, it's clear that I don't really have anything to be proud of when it comes to being an American.

What I do have are many, many reasons to be thankful.

Regular readers of this column know I consider gratitude to be the driving force behind living a good life, and also that I have grown more resolute in this understanding over time. More than ever I am absolutely convinced that living a life of purpose and meaning depends on recognizing life as a gift and understanding how precious that gift is.

And a gift that precious practically compels a sense of obligation, of devotion.

This is central to the life of faith. “Jesus paid it all/All to Him I Owe,” wrote the hymn writer, summing up the response demanded by a gift that is all-encompassing and plainly undeserved.

Within a framework of patriotism it works much the same way. I can't really say that I deserve the blessings I enjoy as an American, but I surely can acknowledge that those blessings carry with them enormous responsibilities.

I guess this is what bothers me so much about the current tendency toward nationalism. Nationalism assumes we are somehow better than other people simply because we were born here and they were born somewhere else.

Patriotism knows that the country doesn't owe me anything but that I owe it my best.

Reggie Ponder is editor of the Chowan Herald