Friday, August 29, 2008

These United States of America

A week ago in Somerville, Massachusetts, some one thousand, nine hundred and seventy-three miles away from Denver, Colorado, I stood on my chair in a bar and watched the next President of the United States deliver one of the most stirring speeches of my young life. Surrounded by other Obama fans, all turned towards the big-screen TVs, Obama spoke to us in high-def, and oh my, was it ever.

For the first time in what felt like a long time, Obama laid out his plans for the future of our great nation. Nothing he said last week was new. In fact, most of it I'd learned from reading his book and from various other sources. But in that speech he put his ideals into one, cohesive message, and delivered it with such passion that I have a hard time imaging that I know someone who wasn't moved by what he said. I cried twice.

For a long, long time, I have struggled with my own personal brand of patriotism. Before I met Matt, I wouldn't have said that I was particularly patriotic. Much to my father's dismay, I drew anarchy symbols all over my notebooks in high school and professed a strong desire to move to another, better country. I went to Israel after my first year of college and came back spouting rhetoric about the ineffectiveness of our constitution. And I took just enough political philosophy classes in college to make myself dangerous. But all of that changed for me over the course of a very short period of time.

Just after I graduated from college, Matt and I took a road trip across the United States. Too poor to spend any significant time in Europe, Elissa suggested that we maximize our summer together and drive around the US. Matt was thrilled. I was disappointed. When I thought about our summer together, I imagined us taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. But a few weeks passed on the open road and I learned that there is nothing quite like finding a love of your country while eating at an A&W's in Holbrook, Arizona, because it will take at least three days to order the part necessary to fix your truck. In the course of those 5 weeks that we drove around America, I came to appreciate the meaning behind "America the Beautiful." We saw the piddliest fireworks display I have ever seen in my life in a teeny tiny town called Lillian, in Alabama. And as bottle rocket after bottle rocket was launched into the air by teenagers, I welled up at Sousa's familiar tunes.

A little over two years later, the same music would make me cry, only this time, it wasn't on July 4th. It was on September 12th, as I watched the first of many video montages and stared in horror as I saw the twin towers fall over and over again. While most of my friends felt some amount of irritation at the swelling of patriotism that overtook the nation, I felt privately grateful. I was glad for the comfort of strangers, united as we were in making sure that our troops would be safe in the inevitable war. I saw so many of Matt's friends board a plane bound for the desert, their excited and eager faces making my stomach churn and hurt with worry and fear. Yes, I felt grateful for the patriotism then, learning, as I was, what it meant to be the partner of an officer in the United States Air Force.

It was just a few months later when I sat in a classroom in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and learned about the Constitution. I surprised my classmates and myself by staunchly defending our governing document, the Justices who promise to uphold it, and the tenuous grasp we have on liberty. I carried a well-worn copy of the Constitution in my backpack everyday for three years. In my first year of law school, I memorized it, turning the words over and over on my tongue, listening to how they sounded in my mouth. To this day, I read the Constitution when I feel particularly lost in the world of law. And to this day, it makes me calmer to know that we created such a living document over 200 years ago.

It was just a few years later that I stood before a former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and I took an oath the Commonwealth, promising to pursue and seek justice, and to help those who need it most. In the three years since I took that oath, I have struggled to personally define its meaning. I have found that I take it more seriously than most, that I believe a promise to be a promise, more than mere words. I believe that when you agree to help those who are least advantaged, you put your heart into that work, and that it sometimes feels a lot like patriotism, this work of upholding the Constitution.

I met more non-US citizens last year than ever before in my life. And the most consistent thing they expressed to me was just how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. "A lucky accident," they said, as they struggled to find employers who would sponsor their green cards, help them to stay in this country. "Yes," I said, finally understanding, "a lucky accident."

Last week when I was listening to Barack Obama speak to the nation, I found myself thinking, "this, this is what it means to be patriotic." Here is man who understands this country. Here is someone who respects and loves this nation and sees just how amazing an opportunity we have just by the lucky accident of living here.

How democratic are we, then? How much can we change by the power of our vote? Well, everything, of course. We can change everything. Our most powerful living documents allow us to continue to create and mold this amazing nation in which we live. It is up to us, to the lucky citizens of this country, to make it better, to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, to secure the blessings of liberty. In short, if you don't already plan to do so, VOTE on November 4, 2008. And if you want to see real changes in the way that this country is run, Vote for Change, Vote for Hope, vote for Barack Obama.

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