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Is America Good?

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An American flag close-up and folded and place on the signatures on the Declaration of Independence.
An American flag close-up and folded and place on the signatures on the Declaration of Independence.

A long time ago (at least 11 years), on a high, green, grassy esplanade leading to the glimmering castle in Stirling, Scotland, a mother sat on a blanket with the remains of lunch. Her six-year-old son had just run over to another young boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, and they had quickly become friends - as young boys that age are wont to do. They immediately transformed into two great knights engaged in an epic plastic sword fight, thanks mostly to the fact that my son's new friend had 2 swords and was happily sharing one.

The sun was shining in an uncharacteristically cloudless blue sky, a refreshing breeze was blowing, and I was in my favorite place in the world with my child.

After a while, our two brave knights grew weary, and approached the older knight's parents for juice boxes. They chatted a while, and then I saw my son gesture towards me as the other boy and his parents began walking over. I stood, brushing away sausage roll crumbs and grass from my jeans, as they drew near. As they stopped within a conversational circle of me, Z said "This is my mom," and to me "these are new friends." Smiles, handshakes, and name exchanges all around, including the young knight accompanying his parents.

We chatted a bit more, and I asked what brought them to Stirling. As it turns out, they were exploring their Scots heritage as well, although they had traveled just a couple of hours north from England. The young boy was extremely pleased to let us know he was related to the great William Wallace. I told him that was awesome, and asked what had he learned so far. He was very well-versed in his ancestor's lineage, and we shared what we knew of our own Scots heritage (not nearly as valiant!).

Then talk turned, naturally, to where were we from, and our new young friend quite innocently broached the question, "Is America good?"

And all of Time stopped.

Screeched to a halt, tires locked up, smoke billowing; locomotion braking, steam rising... I realize what followed in my head took only the most infinitesimal of moments, but it felt like hours before I was able to answer.

At that moment on the grassy hilltop, my brain was assaulted by the 200+ years of history learned in school. Past wrongs our country has wrought on other nations; the wrongs our citizens have pressed onto each other...

It's funny how history quite often "sums" up the worth of someone, or something, in terms of negatives. But I don't -- I can't -- see my country as a "negative sum." Of course we've made bad decisions, but we've made some incredibly good ones, too, and I believe the good that tips the scales in our favor far outweighs the bad. We are not perfect, we are flawed. But we are fiercely committed to the idea of democracy and strive for excellence on every front. If I didn't believe that, I couldn't live here. I certainly could not have raised my child here.

And so at the very next moment, I smiled at our new friends and said very honestly, "Yes, America is good. We love our country."

And that was good enough for him. Pure and simple.

"Yes, America is good" from someone who lived there. "America is good," he'll tell his friends back at school. "I met some new friends this summer -- they are American, and nice people. I had fun."

Is America good? A loaded question, to be sure. And as I recount this story to you during the final days running up to a Presidential election, the irony is not lost on me.

Yes, we are flawed people in a flawed nation. The words, our blueprints, the Founding Fathers gave us promise to work toward "a more perfect union..." And therein lies the hope for a better nation: we continue to work for a more perfect union, knowing full well that perfection itself isn't promised; but we will, as Americans, continue to strive toward it.

And that's why we really can say, yes, our country is good.