Vice Column: Letter to America

Clement Harrold

Student Government Vice President

Just shy of four years ago I arrived in Steubenville, Ohio, after more than 30 hours of travelling. Though not my first time in the United States, this particular journey had certainly proven the most eventful.

Upon arriving on the east coast, I discovered that my connecting flight to Pittsburgh had been cancelled due to bad weather. Faced with staying the night in New York, I soon learned that, not yet being 21, I wasn’t allowed to stay in a hotel. Complicating matters further, although I had arrived into JFK, my new point of departure the next day would be LaGuardia.

A similarly-aged girl from Germany had found herself in the same boat, and so together we set off on a shuttle bus around 11 p.m. in order to get to LaGuardia and spend the night there before flying out early the next morning.

This particular girl (I forget her name) was even more stressed and exhausted than I was, and on the bus ride she began to throw up. Yippee. To make things infinitely worse, the night we had picked to spend in the airport happened to be the same night that they chose to test their fire alarm systems. … I think I can confidently say that I didn’t sleep a single wink that night.

Needless to say, my experience of this great nation has improved considerably since that traumatic August evening.

Upon finally arriving at school, I threw myself into campus life and quickly immersed myself into that vibrant and exciting American culture that I have come to know and love. Four years later, I am filled with a profound sense of appreciation for everything this wonderful country has given me.

No matter where my future leads, I shall always be grateful for the experiences I have had in this nation, as well as for the lifelong friendships I have formed during my time here.

With this being my 11th and final article for so illustrious a periodical, now seemed like an apt time to pause and offer some closing reflections on the land that has given such shape and colour (that is to say, color) to the last four years of my life.

What, then, do you say of yourself, America? These days, amid all the political turmoil and cultural chaos, it seems that you are no longer quite sure.

Writing in his landmark work “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville eloquently conveyed something of that initial sense of awe and wonder that millions of immigrants across the centuries have felt upon arriving in the Americas:

“(T)hey thought themselves transported into those fabulous regions of which poets had sung. The sea sparkled with phosphoric light, and the extraordinary transparency of its waters discovered to the view of the navigator all that had hitherto been hidden in the deep abyss. … Every object which met the sight, in this enchanting region, seemed prepared to satisfy the wants or contribute to the pleasures of man.”

From the start, it was abundantly evident to de Tocqueville, and countless others, that this great unknown land mass had the potential to be an amazing place. With the passage of time, this potential would steadily come to be realized and since its founding, Americans have never shied away from extolling their nation’s virtues. Instinctively they understand that they possess something very special.

Today, however, this happy picture has become discolored and distorted.

A once great nation now finds itself floundering and uncertain. A formerly noble people senses it is called to something more, yet feels it has lost its way.

Within communities and within the home, sin has been permitted to take root and multiply unopposed. The human person is violated, the family betrayed, the Church brought to its knees darkness covers the land.

Nor can my claims be dismissed as religious hyperbole. The facts speak for themselves: You have lost your way, America, and the tragedy is all the greater precisely because of the heights from which you have fallen.

In a homily given in Baltimore in 1995, St. John Paul II illustrated the predicament with his observation that “America has always wanted to be a land of the free. Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth.”

Though not a perfect founding, America’s roots nevertheless represent a sincere attempt to build a society wherein authentic freedom and pursuit of the Good might prosper and flourish.

Today this founding vision faces graver and more pervasive challenges than ever before in your country’s brief history. Yet my sense is that the American ideal is one that has always excelled in the face of hardships and obstacles.

The greater the challenge, the greater the triumph. This is the American way, and I have no doubt that in the coming decades, all true patriots will be called upon to exhibit the same fortitude and moral resolve against the cultural Marxist elites as their forefathers displayed against their British overlords.

That label “true patriot” bears deeper deflection. In “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis raises the question of what loyalty towards one’s country looks like when one’s country has gone astray. “No man,” said one of the Greeks, “loves his city because it is great, but because it is his.”

A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration: “England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.”

True love of country, like true love of persons, does not despair or give up when the object of that love no longer appreciates the affection. Yes, today your country may not be what it once was. But this should be a reason for doubling down, not for withdrawal. This is America lest we forget and fighting back is what you do best.

During my few short years here, I have been so struck by the numerous wonderful, vibrant, faith-filled people I have been blessed to be able to meet and get to know. I have been inspired and at times deeply moved by those American families who are committed to their faith and their nation, and who give me so much hope for the future.

No doubt we live in difficult times. Like Frodo, perhaps we wish such times had not come to us. But come they have, and in Gandalf’s words, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

You too must decide, America, and the decision you make will be felt across generations and cultures for centuries to come. I close, then, with a word of Scripture from Joshua 24:15: “Choose this day whom you will serve. … As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”