Column, Living the Dream

Becoming an American in red, white and blue

By Merisa Sherman

His red, white and blue T-shirt hangs almost to his knees, with his little white shorts peeking out the bottom. Once long hair is now shaved short for the heat of summer, and the little boy looks around trying to gauge his surroundings. Too young to understand the ramifications, all he sees is a gathering of patriotic fervor. There are flags waving all along the roadway; even his own little arm is gallantly waving a tiny flag. It’s fun.

The cheers overwhelm the boy. He is surrounded by more people than he remembers ever seeing before in his whole four-year existence. His eyes are wide, taking in the multitude of faces, so diverse in their colors and shapes. Some are vaguely familiar, but many he is seeing for the first time. For him, they are all just more people dressed in red, white and blue, their faces hovering way above his little body. To see any of them, he must look up as to the heavens.

Off in the distance, you hear the rumbling begin as the drummers start to take up the march. The rhythm reverberates through the earth and the little boy looks down at the new sensations coming from his feet. He knows something exciting is coming; he can feel the anticipation of his parents standing behind him. They, too, are dressed in red, white and blue and waving their own flags as they lovingly look back and forth from their son to each other and back to the anticipated parade. 

The little boy starts bouncing up and down, partly caught up in the energy but also in an attempt to break the connection to the earth. Between the drums, the marching and the cheering of the crowd, the earth is alive with energy and it almost overpowers the little boy. He bounces, so full of energy that one would think he had eaten an entire party size bag of red, white and blue M&M’s on the drive over.  

The drumming gets louder, and he can see the golden fringe of the marching band glittering in the sunlight. The brightly colored uniforms contrast sharply with the white boots and band hats, but that golden glitter brings it all sweetly home. The power of an entire marching band of instruments takes over not only the square but the entire being of the little boy. The soundwaves combine with ground waves to encompass him for all directions — just as they do with every other person standing in the square. The music engulfs it all, unifying beneath her rhythms and beats.

The boy begins to grow strong as the energy of the crowd increases. Shouts of “U.S.A.” are heard from all directions, giving a common theme to the group. The little boy is caught up in the fervor, his small arm frantically waving his flag to demonstrate his love for the red, white and blue. His favorite green and yellow tractor rolls by covered in patriotic ribbon followed by a police car with all the lights and sirens blaring. A firetruck comes next, and the little boy cannot contain his excitement, almost bouncing into the street.

He does not know yet what it means, but he is an American. A citizen of the United States of America. Here, joined with family, friends and strangers, he sees people coming together to celebrate a common ideal. For the little boy, the colors means joy and celebration, they mean togetherness and unity. He does not know that the 13 stripes stand for the 13 colonies who stood up — together — against a tyrannical government. He does not know what the colors themselves stand for; at four, he is only discovering the excitement of patriotism.

Today could be the first day that he hears the words, “liberty and justice for all.” 

Perhaps today is the day that the little boy hears the words “all men are created equal” for the first time. Perhaps today is the day that the little boy will start learning what that means. Perhaps today is the day that the little boy will learn that we are all just one big family, full of every color but unified by three. Perhaps today is the day that the little boy will learn about the delicate balance between “freedom and unity.” Perhaps today the little boy will join our Founders in “mutually pledging to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  Perhaps today we will teach him what it means to be an American. 

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