I became a patriot on September 13, 2001. The darkness and fear that had descended on our study abroad group two days earlier had been somewhat alleviated by the rigors of coursework and the beauty of Paris. The sadness and shock were still present and were enhanced every time we looked at a newsstand or saw the sign that was placed in so many shop windows. "Nous sommes tous Americains".
We are all Americans. Just like we were all Berliners when that city needed the world the most.
On the 13th a few of us decided to go down to the Champs Elysees where there was a memorial in front of the American Embassy. As we approached the line I noticed an old French man in his World War II hat, sitting on a park bench, weeping. In front of the embassy were hundreds of letters, flowers, and "I Love NY" t-shirts. To many, precious souvenirs of a rare trip across the Atlantic. And then I felt a tap on my shoulder. A little lady, probably around 75 years old, began to speak to me in hesitant English. "America saved us. We.....comment dire 'devoir'?" Devoir, when conjugated, means must. As a noun it implies duty. I assured her I could understand French and she began to tell me how she was young during WWII, how America had defended Western Europe from tyranny. And how she hoped and prayed her country would be able to pay back some of that debt now.
I had never in my life realized that anyone viewed America in this way. Americans in France were fat, obnoxious, and had a strange belief that yelling in English would help the French understand them better. We were a pompous people who insisted the world do it our way. And yet, there was still a memory that we did some good. That our country had sacrificed to help rid the world of the evil of the Third Reich. And though, even then it seemed inevitable that things would change and politicians would disagree and that citizens would protest, for that moment the world remembered.
For the first time I felt overwhelmingly proud to be an American.