I'm Proud to be an American
September 17, 2002
I never imagined that a cynical person such as myself would be moved to admit out loud and publicly, that I love my country –or at least I love Boston, the only American city I claim as mine.
What cracked my normal stern emotional barrier? The Hemp Festival. For years on Boston Common a rally has taken place to urge legalizing marijuana, and this year it fell in the sorrow-exhausted week post September 11, on a lovely almost autumn day. The rock band blasted, the stalls jammed along, with hemp clothes, sandals and soap, barbecued sausages, tee shirts, leis of plastic marijuana leaves, ‒ you know the scene. About thirty-five thousand people lolled on the grass, while the ever-lawful Law looked on, and laconically arrested a few blatant smokers.
It was the blatant smokers who made me realize how much I love my country. Among the crowd lounged a few of us WOEs (Wise Old Elders, who survived the seventies with our brains intact; including my own generation, we who remember WWII , the Beats, and McCarthy witch hunts). The Wonderful Ones are the young, unburdened by historic perspective. They’re kids with green hair, exposed bellies, drooping jeans. Lovely children, the age of my granddaughter, who merely do what they’re supposed to do at that age: disobey. They’re supposed to take chances, investigate alternatives, dare to get in trouble, offer grandma a toke – all that. As I sat smiling on my bench I felt enormously grateful that because we live in Boston, these kids don’t need to conform like the Japanese, or study fiercely like French kids who get only one chance for university, or even drive their fathers’ Chevrolets. Because what creates adults is dancing the perilous balance, between nonconformity and assimilation, where you develop your personality, ingenuity, independence and tolerance – and maybe emerge human as well as American.
That very same week I stumbled (No, I was sober by then) onto the Salvador Independence Day observation at City Hall. Boston City Hall always donates city space for patriotic celebrations. Given how may nations adorn or plant, and how many of them sent populations here, every day is Independence Day. This one happened to be El Salvador. Onto the stage strolled a young girl, who with no accompaniment sang out the Star Spangled Banner. Behind her filed about twenty little kids dressed in Salvadoran blue and white costumes, each one holding a bouquet of two flags. And wouldn’t you know, I let my post 9/11 emotions mix with teens at the hemp rally, and kids on the platform at city hall, and began to weep. Too much.
Naturally I’m embarrassed. One is simply not supposed to weep hearing the Star Spangled Banner, especially while our antediluvian American administration seeks yet another war. I had to ask myself, Hey old lady, exactly why are you crying? The answer of course is: like most people, I cry from grief.
Tomorrow I leave Boston for Mexico, and in case this is my last comment on the world before I am rent asunder by attack robots at Logan airport, I want to confess – I not only wept real tears, but frankly, I don’t understand why you’re not crying too.