This week on Veterans Day I took two of my daughters to go run some errands with me. While at lunch Rachael asked, "Daddy, what is Veterans Day "? She only asked that question after I assured her that the school had no prior knowledge of the rain that would fall all day and they did not cancel school preemptively, which she was pretty sure they did.
I struggled to answer the question. It wasn't that I wasn't sure what Veterans Day was, I just knew there would be more questions to come with it, ones I wasn't sure an 8-year old could understand the answers to.
I started by saying, "Honey, today is a day we honor those that fought and are fighting for the American way of life." I told her that her grandfather was a veteran; he fought for our country in Korea.
The next question she asked was, "What do other countries think of America?"
I wondered if that was an easier question to answer when I was a kid, or maybe when my father was a young boy. If there was a time when a father could say to a child, "America is the greatest nation in the world. We fight, when we have to, to preserve freedom and justice in the world, we strive for equality both within our borders and without."
As I think back about what little I know of American history, I don't really know if that was ever the case. We have been both liberators and the ones who enslave; we have been the country that gives and the country that takes. We have been the country with the power to do what we want, how we want.
The best answer I could come up with for her on this day was that some countries don't like us, they don't appreciate the American way of life and that is why we fight.
"What about God?" she asked. I said, "I don't think that God likes war and that it all stems from man's selfishness and disagreements."
I thought at that moment about some parent who may be answering that very same question, telling their child that God is on our side, or another who may tell their child that America deserves what is coming, and that if there is a God and he ever was on our side that he isn't anymore. It made me realize how we use God to back our views and how that must skew a child's view of God and America, how we can so easily make the assumption that God would choose sides and that somehow he always chooses ours.
In typical 8-year old fashion before I could answer the previous question another was coming, "What is the American way of life?" Simple questions, they seemed, with impossible answers. Freedom may have been an answer at one time, but what hath freedom wrought? Capitalism, and what followed is consumerism, then apathy. Power, and with that power we have been the most giving nation in the world, and yet so consumed with ourselves that we don't realize the chasm that grows between the rich and the poor in this country.
What about so many of us in the middle-class who are entrenched in debt and want to blame it on someone else, but know the responsibility is our own for buying into what has become the American dream? The dream of having what your neighbor has and faster than they can get it, the dream of having the latest greatest everything, is that America?
I didn't think me trying to talk to an 8-year old about what I perceive to be an identity crisis of an entire country would make much sense.
The answer I came up with was something like this, "Those brave men and woman who give their lives for something bigger than themselves do so to preserve the American way of life. What is that exactly? I am not sure that anyone knows right now, and it's a debate that may go on forever, but that is exactly what these veterans have given us, the ability to make choices and decide for ourselves to keep having lively, and hopefully civil debate about what we want America to be. What we do with that freedom is our own choice. What we create America to be is only possible because some brave young men and woman still have faith that we will make the right choices and in turn honor them through our American way of life."