America the Beautiful


As our country begins a new chapter with the inauguration of president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris, we find ourselves in the midst of multiple storms. The pandemic rages on leaving death and economic devastation in its path, white supremacist and extremist groups have grown in voice and presence, and the ever growing existential threat of climate catastrophe looms large. As president Biden pointed out in his inaugural address "any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways" and yet here they are facing us all at once. In the darkness of these times I have felt fear, anger, disappointment, betrayal, despair and shame. However, I have also found something so beautiful - love for, ownership of, and pride in this country. I have always been grateful to live in the United States and call it home, but I have spent much of my life at odds with the idea of patriotism. I remember at 17 years old, right after 9/11, attending a candlelight vigil for the victims of the attacks in a park in Salt Lake City. I departed this vigil when the peacefulness of the evening devolved into an aggressive, loud and angry chant "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" No, that was not a patriotism I could get behind. The deep love I have for this country is not in its power or its might. The love I have for this country is in its continued struggle for the ideals of truth, justice and equality. Ray Charles' recording of "America the Beautiful" has been hitting so hard for me these past few months. It has pulled on my heart and brought tears to my eyes as I've listened to this black man well versed in struggle, born into a world of inequality due to the color of his skin that he was completely blind to, letting rip from his soul an anthem calling all of us to be the best, kindest, and most heroic brothers and sisters to one another and to this land that we can be. All of what I've been feeling was so exquisitely expressed by the brilliant poet laureate Amanda Gorman in the inaugural recitation of her poem "The Hill We Climb." This stanza in particular struck a chord in me: "A nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished." The fight to this finish is what stirs my soul. I cannot leave it to others to define what it is to be an American. I know exactly what is beautiful about our country and I know that the way we lead forward to this finish, towards these ideals, will not only heal our own land, but the entire planet we live on. As Ray so beautifully sings: "till all success be nobleness"..."from sea to shining sea." Much Love,


James

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