Still Great

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I was in the Conference Room at school, surrounded by piles of Common Core assessments, long-term planning and half-opened bags of crisps (or chips, since I’m in the States) when my colleague turned to me and stopped the conversation mid-sentence.  It was somewhere between me asking if we had an assessment for reading words with prefixes, and another colleague suggesting one that required too much ‘cut and stick’ to be practical.  In the midst of that, she spoke up.

“Guys, we need to stop a second.”  She looked at me.  “I don’t know… I’m not sure how… You need to know that something bad has happened in England.”

She handed me her phone.  I read the news alert.  My hand shook, I sucked in a loud breath, my eyes filled.

Hearing that someone has done awful things and hurt people is horrible.  Hearing that someone has done awful things and hurt people in my country, is worse.  But hearing that someone has done awful things and hurt people in my country while I am thousands of miles away, is heart-breaking.

The tragic events in London yesterday are hard to write about, much less understand.  They were ugly acts.  And I don’t like it when ugly acts happen to my beautiful country.

If living in America has taught me one thing, it’s taught me about patriotism.  America knows how to do patriotism.  I thought I knew what it was, but standing in an arena while cowboys and eighteen thousand other patriots sing a national anthem in identical, proud, hand-on-heart, stand-to-attention poises, I experienced patriotism on a whole new level. I watch my students, at just seven and eight years old, pledge allegiance to their country every morning.  So yes, America has taught me to be patriotic – about my country.

I don’t recite a pledge every day, but I am thankful every day to be British.

There’s a reason they call us ‘great’.  It’s not the tea, it’s not the fish and chips, it’s not Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or Oxford University.  It’s those things and more.  It’s rainy summers and ice cream vans and scones with fresh strawberries and clotted cream.  It’s our resilience and stubbornness and unfailing politeness and the ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude that isn’t just a postcard slogan.

We are the nation of Winston Churchill, the man who defeated enemies and inspired the masses and who no-one could write off even at the very end.  We are the nation of the Virgin Queen who made men quake in the shadow of her supreme strength and gritty determination to make her own rules.  We are the nation of her namesake, who has ruled and ruled and ruled and still rules with a dignity and grace incomparable with any other.

‘Great’?  We have earned that title, don’t doubt it.

And we earned it again yesterday.

See, people might attack our country.  They might wound us, scare us; they might put our capital city on lockdown.   Be they cannot – and will not – make us cower.  They cannot – and will not – stop us from living and thriving and welcoming with open arms those who need us.  They cannot – and will not – dampen our British spirit because we believe – we know – that people are good.

When the yesterdays happen, as they have before, the todays happen too.  For those few ugly acts, we fight back with a hundred, a thousand other more beautiful acts.  Acts of heroism and loyalty, solidarity and optimism and hope, and the sheer determination to calmly put the kettle on, meet with our neighbours and carry on.  We are not afraid and we stand together.

I might be four thousand miles away, but I’m right there with you Britannia – now, yesterday, tomorrow: proud, calm, stubborn, ever believing in the goodness of humanity, British to the core.

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