Based on the circumstances of my life, you would think I would be the most patriotic person around. I was born on a national holiday (Memorial Day) in an Air Force town to two parents who were employed by the Department of Defense. One of these parents was a Vietnam vet who spent most of my childhood active in city politics. Lets just say there was a lot of God and country in my early life (in the best of ways).
Chalk it up to teenage rebellion that I was not a red, white, and blue girl. I was not convinced that ours was indeed the best county around. My restless feet decided to walk out on my patriotic town and visit as many other countries as I could. I was on a quest to find what my Americana childhood had been missing.
As I traveled around Europe, Central America, and Africa, I did in fact find that each land had its own unique beauty and wonders to discover. I will never forget how good mangoes taste straight from the tree or how delightful Norwegian cloud berries are. And there are social policies that I do wish our country enjoyed (A year off of work for new mothers anyone? You can have it in Norway!) But the irony is that it the biggest effect visiting all these other lands had on me was to make me more grateful for all the gifts my own country had to offer.
So on this 4th of July, a brief list of things I am most grateful for as a citizen of the United States of America.
1) Every morning I can wake up, turn on the tap and drink a glass of clean, fresh water.
This may seem really simple, but if you have ever visited a country where this is not possible then you know how big of a deal clean running water is. Nearly a billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water. Not only is the available water dirty, but women often have to walk miles each morning just to carry jugs of unclean water home. Among those places, 80% of illness is related to dirty water and lack of proper sewage. Which brings me to the second thing I am grateful for about the old US of A.
2) Each morning I also have access to a flush toilet to properly dispose of my waste.
It only took one walk down a street bordered by gutters flowing with raw sewage to convince me of the miracle of the modern American sewage system. Even though I grew up with stories about my parents using outhouses, I had always taken for granted that our government provided a means to take dirty water safely away and to bring clean water to my fingertips. If you want to learn more about the worldwide water crises and how to help visit The Water Project.
3) My daughter can go to school without fear of being shot or kidnapped.
This is a big one for me. Even though American women complain about not getting equal pay and bearing more of the household load than men (and these are injustices that should be rectified), we have so many opportunities that are unavailable to most of the women in the world. We can wear what we choose, get an education, hold a job, and have a voice in the running of our government. It breaks my heart that our sisters in the world suffer so needlessly just because they are born female. I don’t even know how to start to make this better (although I do sign petitions regularly to this effect at Amnesty International, and you can too!) Maybe I’ll start be being grateful that I am raising my daughter in a land where she at least has a chance at living in a safe environment that allows her to reach her full potential.
4) Access to medical care
I know this is a hot topic right now. And it is still true in the USA that those with more money get better medical care than those with less. But we do have a safety net that allows most people to get some level of medical care that sustains their life. If nothing else, I am grateful that we have a health department that brings vaccinations to my children’s public schools, educates about and prevents contagious diseases, and keeps malaria from spreading by keeping check on chemical levels in our public pools.
When we brought my daughter home from China we noticed a small circular dent in her left upper arm. When we pointed it out to our pediatrician he mentioned it was nothing to worry about, just a scar from her smallpox vaccine. A vaccine we had no idea about since that disease has been eradicated in America. So today I’m grateful that my daughter will never need to rely on that vaccine during her life in America and that the mosquito net above her bed is purely decoration.
5) Religious and Political Freedom
Whether I am Republican, Democrat, or otherwise I am grateful I can speak my mind about our government without fear of having my tongue cut out. I know we all complain about the government and for good reasons, but let us always remember it could be so much worse. We have no evil tyrannical despot like so many poor countries. There are not armed forces on guard in every town keeping an oppressive peace. As much as we argue back and forth, we are not currently in an actual civil war. I lay down on my pillow at night with no fear of the government coming after me in my sleep. I know that some of you may quip back sarcastically that if I listened to news more maybe I would know I should be more afraid. To you I would respond, spend some time in an unstable and corrupt third world country and get back to me on how bad our government truly is.
As I’ve written this list I realize I could go on and on about all that I am grateful for about our nation today. But I will stop now and enjoy some star shaped cookies and fireworks with my family.
As you celebrate today, what are you most grateful for?