(part of the Africa series)
I’m writing to wish you a happy birthday, from what I consider to be the best place to celebrate it: outside your borders. Please don’t take that the wrong way; for some reason it seems that I appreciate you the most when I am somewhere else, and here in South Africa, July 4th is just another winter Tuesday. I know you’ve had a rough year, what with all the elections and wars and general unhappiness, and even though I haven’t written in a while I have definitely been thinking about you, and wondering how things are going for you. And where things are going for you.
241 years ago, your rebel founders probably thought you would figure out fairly quickly how to do those things they wrote about in their Declaration and their Bill of Rights, but it seems like you are still struggling with some of the most basic concepts. You sort of wrote the manual on democracy, but you make it harder for your citizens to vote than almost any other democracy on earth. Your medical schools and gleaming hospitals turn out amazing new treatments on a daily basis, but many of your citizens die of treatable conditions because they can’t access basic care. Your armed forces cost more than those of the next eight nations combined, but you seem unable to feel secure in your strength. Your colleges and universities span the continent, offering something for everyone, but in some of those very same cities, children attend public schools that do not prepare them to read a book, much less attend college. And in the background, your political parties seem unable to “disagree without being disagreeable,” as if finding some way to destroy each other is a key element, if not the very definition, of patriotism.
In short, you’ve had an incredible run, from upstart colonial rebellion to world superpower in less than two centuries, but things seem out of balance. I believe the best assessment of a nation’s heart is not how it treats its billionaires or its elected officials or its celebrities, but how it treats its poor, its disabled, and its underprivileged, and by this measure you do not stack up well against many other nations. This seems particularly odd coming from a self-proclaimed “Christian nation,” considering how often Jesus and Co. kept coming back to this idea.
Yet, for all your faults and shortcomings and wrong turns, you are truly unique, and your potential is breathtaking. You have the opportunity to impact the world for good like no nation ever has, if you will simply decide that is important to you. Even as we joke with people here about your messed up political system, I am still deeply grateful to call you my home.
In a few weeks, the wheels of our plane will slap the runway there, and I will feel that sense of joy and homecoming that I feel every time I return to you from abroad. I hope that I never stop feeling that. Looking ahead, as so many men and women debate how to make you great, I hope to help make you good.
Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
I love you. Happy Birthday.
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