Monday, July 6, 2015

On How to Love America

It was the third of July, and I was in the Grand Ole Opry, listening to Country music.  Enjoying it, even, though it's not generally my thing.

In the last set, a new singer was brought out, a little coltish dude with a breakout hit single about boats and trucks and beer, whose guitar hung down like an oversided decorative necklace.  He started in with the obligatory opening crowd-connect patter by uttering the words, "I love America."

No context, no build up, no lead-in, no explanation as to why, just "I love America."  There was much hooting and hollerin', it being America and all.

That got me to thinking, as I drove the ten hours back from Nashville through the heart of the deep South on the Fourth of July, about what it means to love your country.

I mean, seriously think about it, because Lord, did I have some time on my hands.

And as I thought, I reflected on love of country through the lens I'd bring to all other forms of love, and with the the things I'd say to a couple in relationship counseling.  Because while most Americans will *say* they love America, that love may not be the healthiest of loves.

Love, you see, requires you to love the whole person in front of you.  The actual person, the real, complicated, messy and imperfect person.  We do not want to do this.

Some of us would rather love the person who once was.  We want to love that person we fell in big dreamy love with ten years ago, and not the less dreamy person who's standing in front of us right now.  We want to love the one who lived for us and us alone, our best friend and lover, and not this harried distant soul who's juggling a million responsibilities and the weight of life.  We want to love that little angel-baby who never cried and never got sick, our selective memory of big eyes and cheeks and heart-melting smiles.  We do not want to love the frustrating fourteen year old who is sitting and furtively snapchatting to their friends about what a [expletive deleted] we are.

When the person we love is a person they no longer are, and maybe never were, then we do not love them.

This is how conservatives do not love America.

Then there's the love of what might be.  "I love you for who you're going to be," we say to our lover, "once I've remade you."  "You're just so messed up," we say to them.  "But I just know I can save you and make you who you need to be."  Oh Lord, if someone ever says this to you, you need to run like H-E-double toothpicks.   Because tempting as it is to be the white knight, the one who comes in and fixes and saves and makes it all right, that ain't love.  What we love then is the sense of power that tearing down gives us.  We love deconstructing for the sake of deconstructing, and that leads us to seek out faults rather than possibilities, flaws rather than living hopes.

When the person we love is only the person we want to make them into, we do not love them.

This is how progressives do not love America.

To love a person, you need to love the whole of who they are.  That means their past, their whole-truth story to date, with all of its triumph and tragedy, all of its success and mess.  You have to love their potential, which rises from the grace notes of that story in all of its complexity.

And you have to love them right now, in that ephemeral place where the told and the yet-untold meet.

That's how we love people, if we really love them.  And that love, truth be told, is the love that heals and transforms for the better.

I'm reasonably sure love of country ain't so different.