The Kind of American I Want to Be | Sojourners

The Kind of American I Want to Be

Grunge American flag, Piotr Krzeslak /
Grunge American flag, Piotr Krzeslak /

There have been Ingelses of my line in the United States, the colonies, since well before our independence was declared. And my mother's family, too, has deep American roots representing various social, political, and spiritual diasporas. 

My family lore and mystery include numerous tales of revolutionaries, pioneers, early American educators, statesmen, industrialists, philanthropists, and even Indian captives. Many of you have probably read the works of one of my forebears, Laura Ingalls Wilder, who recounts what life was like for people who headed into great unknowns to make familiar places for themselves, a sense of home, community, belonging.

Other well-known American ancestors were DeHarts and Boones, people whose vigor and muscle are legendary in the colonies and at various points along the frontier.

And of this stock in my stew, I am ever proud.

But every American started as an immigrant, and along the lines leading to me are other sorts of immigrants, too.

There's a bold Emma McCluskey in my line who provided her own passage from Ireland at a time when young girls were often afraid to travel alone to nearby towns, let alone across vast oceans. And there's the family of some nobility into which she married in America to become both a step and biological mom to give her journey continuation far surpassing the short realtime existence earthly life affords.

There are Jewish ancestors, too, who made their way from Eastern European countries to enter the grand old USA under the gaze of lovely Lady Liberty. Those old souls, like others of a faith growing out of their own, embraced providence, prayed, and stepped into boats to come to a place growing to legend in the international mind — a place of liberty, freedom, compassion, hope, and a place, too, of hardship AND of reward for hard work. It was a place of such potential that a move to it had become known as the American Dream, a place where once-owned people from around the world could learn to own their futures. 

My pedigree includes lords and masters, subjugates and slaves, movers and shakers, people who built the world on the sweaty backs of others, people who sweat for the building of the world, people who took and people who gave, people who depended on the compassion of others and people who gave to others at the potential expense of their own freedoms.

And what these people have converged to produce in me is a woman — daughter, sister, wife, aunt, mother, student, teacher, citizen — who hopes to never forget from where she comes in order to make that place ahead always a point of discovery and improvement. When I worry that my path is one of stumbles and fumbles, I turn my gaze to the two young men walking beside me, one now taller than I am and the other just barely tall enough to take my hand without dangling from it, to consider what I have modeled for them and what they demonstrate to me.

We are a family that embraces diversity, invests ourselves in helping others and improving our community, gives back to the planet that sustains us in hopes of sustaining it, looks to our ancestors not in worship but reverently in appreciation of the hardships they faced to make the United States our home. We are ever vigilant patriots, proud of the good fight for independence, willing to wage battles on various fronts for the continuous evolution of our nation to greater compassion, greater understanding, greater wisdom, in awe of the men and women who give their lives in defense of our ideals, and willing to consider that most good fights are waged in humanitarian efforts that teach us all better ways to communicate, engage, and understand one another. We thank God for our blessings, uphold notions of religious and spiritual freedom, endorse separation of Church and State to maintain always both our freedom to worship God as we see fit and your freedom to exercise your own spirituality or lack of such as you see fit. We do not blindly endorse battle cries, seizures, infringements of liberty, and we will not erect kingdoms on others' heartaches. 

We have all come a long way since those days when our families met at Plymouth, some born into such bounty as this continent provides, some hoping to cultivate a life amid what seemed wilderness. But ahead, there is still so far to go. 

I want to be the sort of American who chooses her battles wisely; who understands it does take a village to raise a child and that there are as many ways to be an American as there are Americans here within the United States and in outlying regions and abroad; who realizes that to be an American is just another method for being human and that doing it well requires a certain appreciation for every person in existence, other creatures with whom we share our world, the various types of life that sustain us, and the planet on which we live and love. 

I want to be the sort of American who gives more than she takes. 

Happy Birthday, America. If I lighted enough candles to demonstrate my love for you, we'd be a flame visible from space, perhaps the only true frontier left.

Treasure Ingels-Thompson is a writer and mother of two living in rural, central Alabama where she and her family work to develop a forest garden to contribute to the sustenance of their town. In the garden, she and they reflect on many gifts, bounty. 

Image: Grunge American flag, Piotr Krzeslak /