Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, America!

I've always loved the American flag.

I was born on the 4th of July, several weeks late, and my mom says I was making a statement by making my appearance that day.  Independence and America are both big deals for me.  Growing up, red, white and blue felt like my colors.  Picnics, parades and fireworks were synonymous with birthdays, and American flags meant me and my country.

(There was the time my younger brother asked for fireworks for his birthday and got upset when my parents told him that wouldn't work. "You always have fireworks for Rebecca's birthday!")

When I was 16 my family moved to Morocco, in what I was certain was my parents' attempt to ruin my life. I feel sorry for what I put my parents through with that move. Morocco was one of the best things that ever happened to me. For several reasons.

I loved the flowers, sunsets, ocean, trees, warm weather (we'd come form Minnesota) and slower life of Morocco. Once I got over the fact that it wasn't McDonald's, I loved the couscous, tagines, mint tea and pastries.  Morocco packs Mediterranean-feeling beaches, mountains and Saharan sand dunes all into one small country.  The people are friendly and kind.

But-- there is nothing quite like leaving your own country to make you appreciate it.  I was surprised to learn there were still kings in the world, and that freedom of speech and religion are not universal rights.  It was an eye-opening experience for a girl who had mostly concerned herself with lip gloss and dances.

Early one morning I came into the front room and found my dad sitting on the couch holding his little short-wave radio, listening to the BBC. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong.
"The United states bombed Libya last night," he said.

I was shocked.  My country? The one I love and proudly represent, had killed people? On purpose?
I felt personally responsible.  And at the same time I didn't want the responsibility.  I hadn't chosen to drop those bombs, but my country had.  And what about my schoolmates from Libya?

Our school was closed and we were told not to leave the house. My little sister had been planning to go to her friend's birthday party that weekend, but the party was canceled.  I think her friend was Malaysian.  For two weeks we stayed home, and I had a lot of time to think about what it meant to me to be American.  Did I want to belong to a country that dropped bombs?  I thought we were above that in the good ol' USA.  (clearly, history was not my best subject) As I learned a little more about the reasons behind the bombing, I had my first struggles with questions about what is ok, and what is not ok in fighting terrorism.

Eventually school reopened.  That first bus ride back was subdued.  As we pulled into the school parking lot, I saw the American flag at half-mast and I cried.  The Libyan students had been pulled from school, and the rest of us tried not to talk about the bombing. Not because weren't thinking about it, but because we came from  so many different countries and backgrounds and political beliefs.

Not too long afterwards, the boy I was dating and a Moroccan friend of mine were selected to represent our school at some workshops in Washington DC.  While they were gone, I walked into the Super Suissie, a Moroccan grocery store, to get chocolate crepes.  (Delicious, in case you wonder. Imagine crepes filled with Nutella.)

A Family Member of a 9/11 victim, by Beverly & Pack 
I paused to look over the newspapers and there, on the front page, were photos of Washington DC being destroyed, with articles about Libya retaliating for the bombings by crashing planes into the Capitol, Senate and postal buildings.

I went home in shock.  This was war-- terrorists vs the United States, and people I cared about on both sides were being hurt.  Were my friends in DC ok?  How would they get home?  In my young mind I wondered how the United States would survive this attack.

We went to the commissary (grocery store) the next day and as we rounded the hill, I saw the American Embassy on the next hilltop, flag flying.  And I cried again.  My country was still standing.  People might attack us, but we wouldn't fall.  That day, I loved my flag and country more passionately than I'd thought possible.

It was several days before I talked about the article with my mom and discovered it wasn't true.  My first introduction to propaganda and the spreading of false information was powerful.  Years later, when planes actually did crash into American buildings, I thought of that article.  I still wonder how long those attacks had been planned.

Since then, I've had the opportunity to live and travel all over the world.  I can tell you that cinnamon trees in the Seychelles are tasty, the jungles of Panama are beautiful, there are insanely long bridges between islands in Denmark, and petroglyphs in the Saudi desert show people hunting ostriches.  I love traveling.

But I love my own USA, red, white and blue, freedoms and struggles to be the best we can be, more than anything I've seen anywhere else.

God bless America!

2 comments:

Barbara said...

I've never ventured farther than Canada & barely across the Mexican border at El Paso TX. I do choke up when seeing the flag on special days, and am so thankful for our freedoms. However, don't think I can really appreciate it like you (and others) who have been other places for long periods of time.
The idea of real Kings who can exert real power seems like something out of a fairy tale...which I don't think Americans can really understand without that background understanding. ;)

Hooray for our Red, White and Blue!!!

Cindy Watson said...

Thinking of you today!