No Visible Signs
An award winning essay about patriotism by Kimberly Clark.

In this modern age of flag-waving and vengeful bumper stickers, I find myself quietly set apart from those who desire to brag on their American citizenship. I wouldn't choose to live anywhere but the United States of America, though many other countries are lovely and exciting and rich with history. As I teach my son about the fascinating heritage of his country and his ancestors, I am struck with awe.

I have never served in the military.

I never had to fight for anything.

I never had anything forcibly taken from me.

I never lost a friend to war.

I have never been persecuted for my beliefs.

How is it that I deserve to be here? I am here simply by virtue of the fact that my mother and father live here. I didn't fight, I didn't choose. When I think of the sacrifice of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who give their time in service to their country I am left wondering. Why do they serve? There is no draft as there was in my father's day. They certainly don't receive appreciation from the citizens they protect. Why would young men and women leave their families and choose to train for the prospect of risking their life? Why would employers of Reservists allow their key people to walk away from their positions for months or years and then welcome them back without consequence?

What do these selfless souls possess that I lack? It is fear. Fear that foreign governments will invade our shores because we neglected to protect them. Fear that leaders will forget that with power comes responsibility. Fear that people will succumb to restricting every aspect of personal life rather than teaching children that there is right and there is wrong. It is this vigilant fear that drives our country's military personnel to put on a uniform and stand up. They stand up to public ridicule, comic degradation, personal humiliation and intense persecution. Those who choose the military as their career are often characterized as slackers who need the military to help them shape up. Those who do not know the unique sacrifice of Reserve military duty believe the "weekend warrior" chooses to live out some sort of sci-fi fantasy adventure.

It's an adventure, all right. An adventure in lost wages, lonely spouses, disgruntled employers, cranky children, and uncertain futures. Ask anyone who ever served in the military or lived in a military family and you will hear an abbreviated story of how hardship made them better people. The HARDSHIP made them better. They endure hardship in order to protect my family. What is my responsibility in helping them to shoulder that burden? What is MY hardship?

I refuse to allow my friends and neighbors to malign the precious servants who work to protect my freedom. I offer respect to government leaders and officials. With my time and with my physical help I support the families of those who serve. I speak well of the contributions of those who wear the uniform: to their spouses, their children, their parents, their co-workers, and their employers. I remember that I am here because others fought and served and lost. They lost life and they lost liberty. Liberty is freedom and I choose to give up the freedom to run my mouth about how being an American means I can have whatever I want. I can't have whatever I want; I can only have that which has been sacrificed and protected. I choose to sacrifice my right to public commentary and I choose to protect the reputations of those who give me my liberty.

I do not casually wave my flag around nor display my beliefs on my car's bumper. I intentionally weave my civic pride into my daily conservations. I teach my children that there is always something more that I can give. I choose to remember about vigilant fear and about how to make this place safer. There is no visible sign of my patriotism. I prefer to express my love of country in ways that other Americans can truly feel.

copyright 2004 Kimberly Clark All rights reserved