<< The Body Politic

Joy Pavelski: A Thousand Tiny, United Actions

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Great and enduring ideas such as “patriotism” or “citizenship” can seem abstract when peering from my little desk in a big office in a bigger building and an even bigger city in this giant country. Perhaps that’s why, as Mark notes, people of my generation (a cross between X and “Millennial”) find it easier to drop out of civic life. Like some of the other holiday posters on this blog, however, looking back at my family history has helped me to understand what it means to be an American.

My family members are farmers in Wisconsin, policemen in Detroit, teachers in Chicago, nurses in Minnesota, and fathers and mothers everywhere. Though my grandfather fought as a World War II pilot, few of us have ever done anything similarly remarkable. And yet, then again, we have. My family’s simple stability—sticking through rough marriages for the sake of faith and seven children, patiently working long hours for middle-class pay, living with and caring for a fading grandmother, always attending every graduation and family gathering even when distances among us have grown—endures through a series of small, but difficult and essential, choices we have made individually and together.

These choices may seem insignificant, but our country depends upon each generation’s renewed commitment to families and communities. It’s too much for me to think about “changing society,” or committing to “progress,” or bringing about social justice; but I can remember my mother soothing a crying sister and, in turn, care for my own children with equal dignity; study a few more hours into a late night because my father rose before dawn for decades to purchase my opportunity for higher education; I can honor my aunt’s enthusiasm for museums and the arts by eagerly attending a high school symphony; improve my attitude by watching my husband work 14-hour days and come home with a smile. I can also understand that each of these notes, when struck, ring in harmony with the greater and very American ideals of perseverance, personal responsibility, independence, and generosity.

For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost; for presence of a thousand tiny, united actions in pursuit of great and enduring ideas, our country lives on.

Joy Pavelski is editorial assistant for The American.

Image by ginnerobot.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.