Veteran’s Day.

posted in: Paean 2
Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958. Encaustic on canvas, 30 7/8 × 45 1/2 × 5 in. (78.4 × 115.6 × 12.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of the Gilman Foundation Inc., The Lauder Foundation, A. Alfred Taubman, Laura-Lee Whittier Woods, and purchase  80.32 Art © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958. Encaustic on canvas, 30 7/8 × 45 1/2 × 5 in. (78.4 × 115.6 × 12.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of the Gilman Foundation Inc., The Lauder Foundation, A. Alfred Taubman, Laura-Lee Whittier Woods, and purchase 80.32 Art © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The question, “Who am I?” is laughably vague. Are you supposed to answer that in specifics? Example: “I am male. I am 60-years-old. I am 6’2.” Or is it meant to be answered abstractly, even dramatically? Example: “I’m searching. I’m broke. I’m only flesh and bone.” Sometimes that question is just plain cruel, given to high-school freshmen to determine too early a career path.

If I were asked to take a stab at it, though, I know what my first answer would be. I’ve known it for a long time.

I’m an American.

Being an American is the characteristic that comes first in my “Who I am” book. My family does not identify strongly with ancestry. I’m a little Norwegian (Dad’s side) and a little Scottish (Mom.) I’m a Fons for sure (it’s the nose.) So I feel American before I feel much else. It’s in my core. It is my core. The spirit of my country pulses in my veins. I work hard to make sure I’m good enough for this blood.

How do I try? I work hard. Even when I’m afraid, I try to be brave. I am a total idiot, but I try to learn from the head-over-heels tumbles I take and when I crash into someone else in the process, it feels right to help them back up and fix it, and I try to do that. American is a wild horse and I feel like a wild horse: out of control, ambitious, messy, able to use my powers for good if I focus. And I like to have fun.

All the sailors, all the flowers. All the wagon trains, the butter churns. All the novels, the rivers of money, the mistakes, the disgraces, the candy stripers clicking heels down the hallways. The mud spatters on the boots. The unregulated masses, all the glittering city blocks. Kansas. Every outdoor concert venue, every blackberry bush, all the kids in the high rises. The medication. The journalists, the crates of fish, the lawns. All the pig troughs, the seashells, the test tubes and the sewing machines. The elderly. The algae. The ox.

America, I love it all. And people just like me and you and my neighbor in the next unit over died for it all and are dying for it all right now. They do it so we can glimpse the fawn and buy the car and smile at the baby in the ICU; so we can listen to Madonna records and open a bakery. Start a bridge club. Film a movie. Get a job. Keep it. Get a raise.

Thank you. I will probably not sacrifice my life for my country, but I promise to live for it.

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