I sat at the end of a dock today, waiting for the bald eagle that we had been watching off and on for the past hour to emerge from his perch and take flight again. Earlier, he’d flown over the lake in front of our canoe and landed in this tree where he stayed motionless while we paddled ever so quietly closer until we were just nearly under his branch. His head moved just slightly. I thought maybe he was looking at us. Then his feathers ruffled and he took off for the part of the lake we couldn’t follow.

Coming back down the long dirt road that had led to the boat launch, I thought about seeing the eagle on the 4th of July. Of course, we’d seen an eagle yesterday but it seemed less regal, a warm-up act for the truly meaningful bird. As we were bumping up and down hills and keeping an eye on our canoe tucked into the back of our truck, a single thick strap holding it in place, I thought about writing this post. I figured I’d make a list of things I loved about being an American.

“What do you love about being an American?” I asked my husband.

“That I can do pretty much anything I want,” he answered.

What did he mean by that? Do pretty much anything he wanted this minute? Today? His whole life? I wondered about this but it seemed to me to be a sentiment resistant to parsing. It was such an automatic reaction; it’s a core thing I thought. Not a reasoned out thing.

I agreed with him. That was pretty fundamental – self-determination. I love that. That really is the best thing about America.

And then I caught myself up short. Well, not everybody can do pretty much anything they want. Plenty of people can’t – for a hundred different reasons.

That to me is the essence of being an American. Loving our freedom but knowing it’s flawed. And having it bother us that what’s on paper isn’t true for all of us. Wanting things to be equal, shared, fair, one reality across the country. I’m as free as you; you’re as free as me. And it’s not just on paper. It’s real.

Always worrying about what’s wrong and striving to make things right is what I love about America. It’s what we do best. Get better.