I was today years old when I realized something. As we stood in the meeting house this morning and sang “America the Beautiful”, I found myself looking at the lyrics, the music dying away on my lips as I read and thought. The latter section of each verse is, in its essence, a prayer.
v1 – O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain;
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.
v2 – O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
till all success be nobleness,
and every gain divine.
v3 – O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.
For all their extolling America’s virtues, these verses and the prayers embedded into them acknowledge that there is still so far to go, so much to do in the work towards that American Dream of freedom. And I find myself appreciating this honesty, whether the authoress, Katharine Lee Bates, intended it or not.
The absolute truth of our country is that freedom is still an unrealized dream. No, slavery doesn’t exist anymore in our country (not as we historically think of it) but the cultural and societal beliefs and mindsets that engendered it still survive and pervade. Freedom and independence still do not exist for all in America. The fight for equality and equity is still on-going. It is not over because not everyone is truly free and, ever more the worse, many refuse to acknowledge this truth.
“God mend thine every flaw.”
We are such a flawed nation, dear readers. We pull away the rights and access that we were taught were the very basis and foundation for our country’s creation in the first place. We deny others the security, equality, and freedoms that we have enjoyed. We shove people out instead of welcoming them in. We revel in and even proudly display our biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, and out the other corner of our mouths, we declare this “the greatest country on earth”. It is not. We have not fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked. We have not welcomed the desperate stranger nor loved our neighbors as ourselves (no exceptions). We are not free. Not yet.
So, as we cook our hot dogs and terrify our pets with colorful explosions, let’s not forget, dear friends, that one of our most “patriotic” songs acknowledges the long way we have yet to go and prays for us in it.
“Till all success be nobleness.”
We are not free because not everyone is free or has the equity or ability to live with dignity and rights. Freedom has never been and still is not yet “for all”. We are not done yet. So don’t you dare think that this is the time to sit back and rest on your laurels and admire how great America is. We aren’t there. Not yet. We are closer. But not there yet.
So. Finish up your hot dog and potato salad, make sure that your sparklers are all the way out, and get up. Let’s go. There’s still work to do, friends–for our loved ones, for our neighbors (all of them), for our country. Let’s go make it beautiful.