Updated: Oct 10, 2020
It was a sunny, seemingly perfect late summer afternoon in 2012 when I lost some of the childhood innocence unique to oblivious children at the hands of horror and heartbreak. My brother, TJ, and I were home with our babysitter as my mom was out running errands and my dad was on a work trip. That afternoon we had drawn with chalk on the front driveway, watched many episodes of Scooby-Doo, and had pizza bagels for lunch. It was as we were sitting at the kitchen table, filling out our weekly reading logs, that I heard the garage door rum open, a car door slam, and muffled sobs.
My mom, who has always been a role model when it comes to composure in rough times, had mascara running down her eyes and onto her cheeks, her purse hurriedly slung around her elbow, and a tissue continuously dabbing her nose. She seemed to forget the babysitter was here and didn't put on a mask to cover her distress when she saw the girl. Instead, she grabbed a handful of cash out of her wallet, threw it into the babysitter's hands, apologized for the rush, and sent the sitter home. My brother and I just sat there, confused and slightly scared.
Mom later explained that one of our family friends, someone who had been my Dad's sergeant and Mom's shoulder to cry on, someone who had loved to entertain with karaoke and was proudly raising two children, had been killed in combat. At that moment, the bubble I lived in with sunshine and rainbows became a little smaller. I was raised in a military family; I had been to my share of memorials and cemeteries and known about death and loss. However, this was the first time that I was witnessing and experiencing the jarring, heartbreaking reality of loss and death in all its horror.
Over the next few months, I attended a funeral, visited the family and made them dinners, and comforted my parents who had lost a good friend. Though there are baby pictures of me with him, I have no memories of the friend my family lost, the soldier the army lost, the dad the kids lost, and the genuinely good person the world was now missing. And yet, I think about him very often. Whenever I hear certain songs that I know he used to like, my thoughts wander to him. While walking past a military graveyard or enjoying watermelon during Memorial Day weekend, I think of our dear friend. And whenever I hear people complain about America or how awful our country is, that's what I think about.
There are so many people who have fought, are fighting, and will fight for the opportunities available in America today. In a very common phrase, they have paid the ultimate price. Because of their sacrifice, your sister can go to school and see all her friends there, no matter the race, gender, or sexual orientation. You have the right to protest any law, action, institution, and implement change.
Traveling back to 1776, it was the soldiers who fought for our independence from Britain, calling upon a new historical time. In the nineteenth century, it was soldiers who fought the Civil War, freed slaves, and took the very first steps towards eliminating racism. American soldiers fought to help Europe free itself of the Nazis and end the Holocaust. And today, young men and women continue to join the military in hopes of changing the world and defending our rights while knowing they could die doing so.
As a military kid, I have a very personal and emotional view of America. I've seen first hand what our soldiers have given for our country and what the families have to live with - or more so without - for the rest of their lives. So, when people go on rants about how awful our country is, I simply cannot stay quiet. I recognize the struggles occurring and the pain they cause, but too much has been sacrificed for the growth that our country has gone through for all of its glory to be forgotten in the face of troubling times.
America is in no way perfect, but is anything? We are taught from a young age that no one, nothing, is perfect. I know I, for one, used to bop to Hannah Montana's "Nobody's Perfect" on Disney Channel, learning that imperfections are beautiful. The point is, I think we can all agree America is not perfect. But, and this is a serious question, what country is? Name one.
Humankind is plagued with flaws, which then seep into our world and decorate the streets. We as a race do bad things to each other and fail to quickly learn from our ancestors. But, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "I'm a slow walker, but I never walk back." Progress is progress.
While you have the right to claim that America is awful and that you hate our country, remember that, despite our flaws, we are still a very progressive and modern country. In the past 100 years, women have gained the right to vote (1920), segregation was legally abolished (1964), and gay marriage was legalized (2011). We have the unique right to the First Amendment; the practice of free speech is enough to be killed in many other countries. Our education system is not only more advanced than other countries but is also legally available to millions more people. Malala Yousafzai was shot for attending school in Pakistan in 2012, whereas in America, Michelle Obama, a black woman, graduated from two Ivy League colleges, graduating from the first in 1985. It is also important to mention that our country existed before 2016-2020, and will exist far longer. Our government is set up so that we have a president - not a monarchy or dictator. Our president is our leader, but he is not the state and is temporary. Don't let your opinion of the president dictate how you feel about the country. They are two different entities.
Are there countries that are "better" than ours? That depends on who you ask and what they prioritize. While our country has many rights unique to the U.S. citizen, we also have many flaws. For example, how is it that there have been 45 U.S. presidents, yet only one was black and none were non-religious or female? Also, the basic idea of free healthcare has yet to be implicated into the American government, whereas counties such as Australia, Canada, the UK, and Germany (among many others) have universal healthcare systems. And, perhaps the obvious, we are dealing with a very real racism issue in our country. It has gotten so bad that people felt the need to flood the streets during a pandemic with signs and their words, calling for change.
It is this race problem that has prompted, in my opinion, far too many people to lose sight of the positive aspects of our country, only noticing the current awful and unfair struggles. As they exercise their First Amendment rights, protesting, and creating online resources for change, they question the character and worth of our country. But, one problem, although it is a large one, cannot erase the good our country upholds.
There is an undeniably large problem in our country with racism. Today, protests and media coverage and public outcry have made it more obvious than in recent times. We are working on that. We are learning, we are changing. We are in the streets, making a difference, holding up signs, and signing petitions. Yes, we are not perfect. But, before you claim and full-heatedly believe that America is an "awful country", please take a step back from your magnifying glass and look at America for more than just the actions occurring as we speak. Right now, we are fighting for more justice, more love, more understanding, and more change. It is these battles that have brought us to where we are today and will take us to where we will be tomorrow.
As a country, we are continuously growing, adapting, and learning. You wouldn't judge a person from their struggles, battles, and time spent improving themselves. You might take that into consideration, but as a general rule, you don't judge someone upon their lowest times. Please do the same for our country.
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