This is America’s time on the calendar. Memorial Day is barely behind us, and within the next six weeks, we will be celebrating Flag Day and the Fourth of July. That we Americans think this nation of ours is worth joyful recognition is obvious. What is not so obvious to many is why.
Perhaps two brief stories will help. Both of them happened to me.
The first occurred when I was still in high school. I spent a summer studying in Europe. We stayed mostly in France, but once in a while we took a bus to shop in Germany. My German was, to be kind, awful; but I was the only one who spoke German at all, so I usually went along as interpreter.
On this day, I asked a sales clerk the price of an object for a friend. At least, I thought that I asked the price. But when she looked at me with a blank expression, I knew that I had said something nonsensical. So, since we were only a few miles from the French border, and I thought that people probably crossed the line to shop regularly, I switched to French.
It was like waving the proverbial red flag in front of a bull. She became irate. I got so flustered that I switched to English to ask what was wrong. She immediately calmed down, smiled, and asked if I was a Yank.
It was like watching the words in the history books about the centuries-old hatred between the French and the Germans come alive right in front of me.
The second incident happened during the Bosnian/Croatian war. I was helping someone who was trying to bring the babies abandoned in that torn country across the ocean to be adopted in America. The Bosnians and the Croats would not even speak with each other to work out a way to facilitate the process.
So a friend and I went to New York to meet with the American representative of the Patriarch of that region. He told us to forget about trying to work with the warring parties over there because there was no way for us to break through hatreds that were centuries old. He counseled us to meet with Americans of Bosnian descent and Americans of Croatian descent, work out the details, and then present them as a done deal to the folks we were negotiating with.
We asked him if we would have any luck with the American side. I will never forget his answer. He said that in America, people leave old hatreds and stereotypes behind. They become part of the American community, and their membership in that community enables them to build bridges instead of walls.
I remembered my experience in the store in Germany, and realized that I had already seen what the community of America could do. In America, there is no hatred between French and German.
It is often referred to as the American melting pot. The people who came here added to the richness of our culture by joining the community we call America. It is a community that is not based on your past, but on your future. It is a community free from the hatreds that plague so much of our world.
There is not another like it anywhere on the planet. It is not just unique, but exceptional. We who have the privilege to live in it are truly blessed.
It is, therefore, only proper for us to recognize and celebrate that blessing.