Perhaps you didn’t know this, but of all the birthdays in all the land, I love yours most of all.
I’ve never really been a big fan of my own birthday, but I’ve always reveled in celebrating those of my family and friends. From surprise parties to spontaneous getaways to five-star meals to long nights on the dance floor to quiet gatherings at home, I’ve done it all.
And yet, even the most epic celebration doesn’t give me the goosebumps I get on the 4th of July.
Yes, I’m a sucker for fireworks. I love the red, white, and blue, and the brief bursts of patriotism that seem to remind us, albeit momentarily, that we are brethren. I enjoy the barbecues, and since I’m from Maryland, I especially enjoy our unique tradition of steamed crabs. I like the random day off from work, the half-price sales that inevitably result in a few new sundresses, and the excuse to gather with family and friends.
But all of that is superficial, and it fades the moment the calendar flips to July 5th. The goosebumps – well, they pop up long past Independence Day. Whenever I hear the National Anthem; when a random gentleman running in an Army t-shirt on the side of the road salutes the flag sticker I have stuck to my windshield; every single time I walk into a voting booth; when I travel abroad and fly back into Dulles International Airport to the sign that says, “Welcome Home.”
I get goosebumps when I walk the National Mall in D.C., and stare up at Lincoln’s enigmatic marble face. I feel it when I open a history book and see things that I’ve lived through documented in its pages. I catch my breath when I watch peaceful protestors exercise rights that so many have fought – and continue to fight – to secure and protect.
I know it in my soul when I read the precise words of the Declaration, belabored over in a stiflingly hot room hundreds of years ago; I am humbled by it when I walk among the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery; I lay awake thinking about it some nights because I am so burdened by our country’s flaws and so awed by our potential that I simply cannot rest.
I love your birthday, America, because I love you.
I love you, even though you have disappointed me and hurt me and frustrated me and sometimes made me feel small and lost and afraid. I am sure that at times I have broken your heart, too.
I love you, because you are mine and I am yours, and true loves do not abandon one another in times of need.
I love you, because at your core, you are a story of underdogs who never should have succeeded, but who never paused long enough to listen to the odds.
I love you as I imagine a parent loves a child – unconditionally, but not blindly.
I love you, and because I love you, I will fight until my dying breath to make you better.
I will fight for those goosebump moments. Some years they are fewer and farther between, harder to find amidst division and anger and fear. And yet – even in our ugliest moments – there is no nation I would rather love.
I love you, America, and I know that I am not alone in saying that it is an extraordinary privilege to do so. Mine is not the only heart that beats and bleeds with this inexhaustible, inextinguishable, relentless, unrepentant love for our great country.
And so my birthday wish to you, America, is to know that I am ready and willing and able to fight, and above all – that I am thoroughly, irrevocably in love with you. And I am not alone.
Happy birthday, America. Enjoy the celebrations, but then buckle up. We’ve got work to do.