For the past five months, I have been living and working in Berlin, Germany. I went there to live with my cousins and their two young children and to work as a native-English-speaking intern at a Kinderladen called Humpty-Dumpty Berlin, a bilingual daycare which my cousins’ children attend. I also helped out around the house and with the kids at home. As always when I am abroad, I felt embarrassed many times a day by my nationality as a U.S. citizen.
When this question of patriotism was brought to my attention, I felt a nudge to look at it deeper within myself. For three weeks I sat down in Meeting for Worship asking for some Light to illuminate the conflicting feelings I have around being a citizen of the United States of America. I met with a Friend from Maryland who was also staying in Berlin to talk about some of these inward conflicts. I shared with her my strong sense that integrity requires me to make clear commitments in relationships and in community. I shared how I often long for modern-day Quakers to be more attentive to our testimony of integrity in this way. Then I told her of a question that had come to me lately – if I believe so strongly in commitment as an issue of integrity, shouldn’t I commit myself to my relationship with my country just as much as I do in my personal relationships or my spiritual community? The problem is, I feel embarrassed by many U.S. policies. I couldn’t see how I could commit myself to something I do not agree with. My friend reminded me that the U.S. has done things to change the world for the better, and she reminded me that the U.S. was created to offer freedom from oppression.
Still, I struggle with that word, “patriotism.” Until very recently, I would never have said that I am a patriot. I would have called myself a Citizen of the World, but never patriot. I thought of patriotism as a dividing factor, and patriots as people who believe that only their own countries are worthy of God’s love. But recently, I am finding something new – I am finding that not only am I a patriot of the United States of America, I also believe that patriotism can bring greater unity to the world by promoting commitment and integrity.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word patriot as “a person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country.” This definition involves no inherent antagonism towards other countries or people. Loving and supporting one’s country, even fighting for it, does not inherently mean attacking other people or their counties.
I do love my country, although I am often embarrassed by our policies. I have also recently realized that I am committed to fighting for my nation. I am committed to the struggle of making the United States of America the best it can be. I am not making any claim to knowing how to “fix” anything, but I know that much work needs to be done, and I am determined to fight to make things better. I am willing to put the love I have of this land and these people to work. From that love I gather the strength I need to fight for what I believe in – a land where people support one another to live into their highest purposes.
Why would I have such a dream, a dream that it seems the United States could never live up to? We are, after all, a nation that breaks international laws on a regular basis. Why would I even bother trying? Because I believe that working through hard, dark, places will bring you to the Light. I believe that running away from difficulties will only make you run forever. There is no perfect country, just as there is no perfect religion, community, or relationship. I believe I must work with what I love, because where there is love, there is power. The power that flows from love is a power meant to be used.
We all know the saying, “Peace begins at home.” Well, integrity begins at home, too, and so does commitment. During my time in Berlin, I had an opportunity to stay there and finish my studies for a fraction of what they would cost me in the U.S. Something pulled me back home, though. I am committed to my relationships and communities in the United States. For me to be in integrity with my communities right now, I must be with them. I believe that if I start with these small communities, and commit myself in full integrity to fight for what I dream they can become, it will trickle up and outward into the world.
Maybe one day I will return to Berlin and create new communities and commitments there. Right now, however, my work begins at home. I am a Citizen of the World, yes. Yet for me to be able to truly experience world citizenship, each of my ripples outward toward the world needs my care. I believe small steps are necessary in moving toward greatness. Before I start taking on the greatness of the world, I must care for myself, my home, my personal relationships, my communities, my religious home in Quakerism, the town in which I live, my state, and my country. I must live with commitment and integrity to myself – the stone that starts the ripples – before I leap to take on the largest of the rings. If I take it, step by step, working through the dark places, I believe I will find the Light. ~~~
Nora Cooke’s parents started taking her to Quaker Meeting when she was two. She became a convinced Friend and a member of the religious society at Grass Valley Friends Meeting in 2010. Nora has studied at The Woolman Semester and Guilford College, and she currently plans to finish her studies in Sacramento, earning degrees in Early Childhood Education and Deaf Studies.