I am thrilled to have Emina Melonic contributing to Power Line in my absence. Long time readers and podcast listeners will recall our fondness here for the late Peter Schramm, the Hungarian who fled to America after the failed anti-Soviet revolt of 1956. “Why are we going to America, father?,” he asked at the age of ten. “Because we were born American, but in the wrong country.” That was all Peter needed to know. Emina reminds me a lot of Peter, though we’ve never met. Give her a follow on Twitter, and check out her work for our friends at American Greatness and Splice Today.
This past weekend, my husband and our son attended the annual Independence Day parade in our town. I was heartened when I heard that the parade will indeed take place because the last two years were greatly affected by ridiculous COVID policies. In addition, these are the days of woke lives, so you never know what to expect at any event. Questions arise: will the parade consist of a bunch of leftist nonsense? Will there be any sign that we still live in America, and that we are remembering the birth of this great nation? Will I just get more frustrated and shouldn’t have left the house in the first place?
Ideologues like to ruin everything, especially joy and fun, and my fears were not unfounded. But I breathed a sigh of great relief. Our town accomplished a difficult task of having the community come together and celebrate this important occasion. It was beautiful and yes, most definitely, appropriately American. I suppose most American holidays end up being excuses for a barbecue, and in Jerry Seinfeld’s words, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” But of course, every intelligent person knows that there is more to it.
I know many Americans like to say they are “proud to be an American,” but I tend to avoid the phrase. Pride, even when well intended, tends to lead into a self-centered loop that doesn’t allow for much reflection, and often results in unnecessary and overbearing sentimentalism. Maybe it’s my Slavic, or to be more precise, Bosnian background that is often suspicious of sentimental statements but that doesn’t make me a pessimist, just an optimistic realist.
Perhaps it’s because of what I’ve endured in my life as a teenager during the Bosnian war of the 1990s, nearly four years in a refugee camp in Czech Republic, and finally an immigration to America that makes me eschew any notion of pride. Life is incredibly fragile, and I’ve seen these breaking points throughout my life, be it during the war during which I saw family and friends get killed, or extremely difficult years as a refugee, or the experience of pure alienation in my first years as an immigrant in America.
I became an American citizen in 2003, and was happy to lead my fellow immigrants into the Pledge of Allegiance. It was an important moment for me, one filled with awe and seriousness about the responsibility as an American citizen. Both then and now, it wasn’t pride that came to my mind but gratitude. Gratitude to have made it this far, gratitude to have survived, gratitude for the glimpses of beauty and goodness that I have witnessed and continue to witness in the midst of darkness.
As I stood with my husband and our son on the sidewalk, watching the parade, I couldn’t help but cry when I saw the veterans (both old and young) carrying American flags. I tried to hold back the tears, like any person in public might, but I couldn’t. The joy was mixed with sadness, mainly because I couldn’t help but look at the past with the lens of the present chaos. What have these men fought for? What are the people marching for? An idea? A reality? Is the very notion of America slipping away?
It certainly looks like that, doesn’t it? It seems that chaos reigns supreme. To be sure, there are daily events which would indicate that the entire world is falling apart, but to assume that this is the only event that is happening or dominating our society is foolish. It assumes that the destruction is inevitable, and thus embraces defeat, including no space for creation, especially in our minds.
What can we be grateful for? That is a question that each American has to answer for him or herself because it’s mostly individual and private. But there is something about it that moves beyond the individual aspect and affects the community at large. “Gratitude is always in one’s power,” wrote John Adams to his wife, Abigail. It is with this power that we are able to remain steady in the midst of chaos, and it is with this power that we are able to continuously reject despair in dark times.