The screen door closed behind me with its familiar “whack,” and this 10-year-old was off on a surreptitious barefoot trek through my neighbor’s backyard, destination Lake Leota Park.
It was a short trek, unencumbered if you didn’t consider Mrs. McDonald’s vegetable garden an encumbrance. Experience had taught me to step between the rows of either carrots or onions; no floppy leaves to get underfoot. I was oft spotted by Mrs. McDonald, but her half-hearted admonitions quickly faded, as she knew I would help her at harvest time.
Soon I was seated on a bank of Lake Leota. I cannot say with specificity what went through my 10-year-old mind, but am sure that the words “love” and “America” were not an active adjunct to my vocabulary, and if used at all they were not in the same sentence. “I love America”? Um, okay. Fish biting?
I was too young and inexperienced to understand the source of the exhilaration, joy if you will, that coursed through me each time I made that trek. I was 10, able to be me to a reasonable degree. The same exhilaration was felt when riding my bicycle to the edge of town (pop. 800) while ignoring the one stop sign; I viewed it as a suggestion, not a command. The same exhilaration you feel when a couple friends materialize and you head out to commit acts wholly unscripted. I was free to do those things. At 10. Did I love America? Of course. Did I know why? Perhaps instinctively.
Being young, not given to deep philosophical rumination as to why life is as it is, I didn’t reflect upon the joy that accompanied my treks, my rides, my actions in those early years. Life was life. Life was things you had to do, interspersed with things you want to do. Didn’t all young boys fill their daily lives with actions that would mirror mine? Didn’t Norman Rockwell illustrate EVERYONE'S life?
Well, no, they didn’t, and he didn’t. As I’ve aged, learned, analyzed, and made sense of who I am and what I believe, the source of my childhood exhilaration has become crystal clear to me; the source is “freedom.” I am happy to proclaim without equivocation, “I love America.” America is freedom.
I love America not because I think it is perfect, but because its imperfections motivate its citizens to seek better solutions and accommodations for the complexities inherent in a republic. I love America because it has loved me back. It is the country that is matched by no other when it comes to allowing its citizens to express and live out their God-given rights with freedoms enshrined in our founding documents. I love America because it seeks to elicit the best from its citizens, constantly having to combat the prickly power known as human nature.
It seems that many of the conclusions that I’ve reached regarding America are ones that are held by multitudes the world over. People possess a natural yearning to be in control of as much of their lives as their social and governmental structures allow. America makes it possible to address that yearning, in an almost universal manner. Through upheaval and calamity, prosperity and discovery, America has persevered. And so has this barefoot boy.
Freedom. America. What’s not to love?