Televisions have been switched off. Angry tweets have been written. Facebook wars have ensued. And today, millions of Americans are hustling to election sites to cast their vote.
It’s Election Day 2016, the ultimate day of election season, a curious time in our national experience from which divisiveness and cynicism are almost inextricable.
Personally, this particular election season comes on the heels of a mammoth PCS from DC to El Paso, TX, an Odyssey that spanned over 2,000 miles, nine states, and seven days. And it’s this experience that is playing on a continuous reel in my mind these days, reminding me just how grateful I am to live in America, despite all of the current electoral angst.
Want to join me? Hop in the passenger seat of my mind’s eye, and ride with me to find out why we should be grateful to live in America in 2016.
We emerge from the congestion of DC and begin our journey in the rolling, forested hills of Maryland. Here, we think about early settlers forging new territory and marvel at dense foliage and rich colors.
Even the kids notice how many different shades of green there are. In West Virginia, old homes dot the hillsides, which soon flatten. Ohio, a familiar and friendly state, introduces us to the rest of the sprawling, hospitable Midwest.
The farmlands of Indiana and Illinois roll by, stretching far to our right and to our left. Miles of distant fence lines fade away with the rhythm of the road seams, and we wonder who might live in the old, faraway homes.
It strikes us here how starkly different the Midwest is from the land where our drive began. During a pit stop in western Illinois, the kids sit on the tailgate of our truck, legs swinging over the side as they happily sip Kool-Aid and nibble on road trip treats.
We point out how the land has changed, and we try to help them appreciate the vastness and diversity of our country. They politely listen, but they are understandably more interested in their Oreos.
So we let them finish, while we gulp down Monsters and submarine sandwiches outside the Liberty Gas, and hope that someday they will recall a sense of belonging to something big and open to them.
We link up with Route 66 and pass the gateway of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey West. Soon the Oklahoma road lies ahead, and beautiful, green ranches brilliantly sweep along the roadside. The sun dances across every blade of grass. Horses graze lazily, and cattle take a page from “Ferdinand” and enjoy a nap in the shade.
Crossing the border to Texas, the land becomes decidedly drier and, well, bigger. The horizon jumps from far away to flat off the map, and the sky becomes a dreamy expanse of clear blue ether and puffy white clouds.
And it’s in Texas, perhaps the most apropos place, that our hearts swell with pride. Here, we look at each other and agree, “We are so lucky!”
This is it. This is where we realize perhaps THE most important reason that we should be grateful to be Americans: this land.
This land of fifty united states and 3.8 million square miles of freely explored, wildly open land.
It’s for us.
Other lands can’t match the enormity of size, freedom, and diversity that America gives us. And our early settlers and explorers knew this. Hundreds of years after their brave expeditions, my family and yours can drive across this enormous country freely and safely.
The fact that we military families can do this because of a job just makes us all the more fortunate.
Maybe this mental road trip was familiar to you; maybe it reminded you of another road trip you had with your own family. Either way, I hope that in your experience you saw the land as if it were for the first time, with a sense of awe and sparks of curiosity.
The American landscape changes as often as the states do, and sometimes more frequently. Each place presents a different form of beauty, from the lush green forests of Maryland, to the dry, mountainous desert of western Texas, to the sparkling seas beneath the California bluffs.
It’s easy to get lost in your own mind as you watch the land pass by your window. You wonder who first saw this place, what made them stop here, who built the aging barns, who tends the animals wandering slowly, steadily, as if in a dream.
And you reflect that not too far that way there are mountains, and not too far this way there is ocean. Dense forests. Rapid rivers. And you realize the magic of the land. Its treasures, its abundance are at once impossible and possible.
It is ours. It is our America.
So, get out there and vote today. But remember, that we hope in something greater than the right or the left. After the outcome of today and forever, we will love this land of the free and home of the brave, together.