I'm not a jingoist type at all and bristle when someone says THIS place is better, THESE people are better. The head of the Chamber of Commerce here was a very smart man and was a great cheer leader for the community. He once said how wonderful it was to be in the greatest city of the greatest state of the greatest country in the world (he stopped at the greatest planet.. but likely would have included that too had he thought of it). I've been trying to wrap my head around that sort of cultural competition ever since. In a world where clearly a rising tide floats all boats (or floods all land, as it were) it is anathema to me to think that I'm better than someone who lives on the plains of the Serengeti or the hills of Peru. And having lived in more places than anyone I know I can absolutely say that THIS place is no better. And I'm not better. I'm just infinitely lucky.
But I was reminded last night of a greatness that this country does have and where and how I became enraptured one day:
I think it was my first deployment. It was a long one, maybe eight months in the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific on a Navy frigate with 280 other souls . A long time to be gone from home. We had already stopped in Hawaii for a couple of days and were on the long, long journey from Hawaii to our home base in San Diego. We had our final refueling two days out of port, an underway replenishment we'd done every three or so days for the entire 8 months. There is a tradition during the breakaway as the ship leaves the side of the fueling host to play a breakaway song. There were always a lot of "Flight of the Valkyrie" kind of stuff out on the front lines to pump everyone up but we were almost home and no longer looking for a fight.
I was down in CIC manning my station in charge of the radars, communication, and anti-submarine/anti-air stations. We got the word that we were breaking away and the Captain brought up on every speaker in the ship including the outside ones that blasted to the fueling ship Neil Diamond's "We're Coming To America".
It was all I could do to maintain my composure as an officer in charge of the armaments of a Naval warship returning home for the first time.
I was reminded of my grandfather who arrived in Galveston Bay working as a seaman on a German merchant vessel. Rather than face the certainty of being drafted into the German Navy at the beginning of WWI he jumped ship and came ashore to this country for the first time. And I was reminded of the millions of others who, like me, were coming to America.
The country is fallible, the people are fallible, but the idea is pristine.