Once upon a time I lived in a land I was unquestionably proud of. The National Anthem would play and I would stand with my hand on my heart, my head held high, and tears in my eyes. I truly believed that truth and justice were the American way. My eyes have been opened to unhappy truths. Questions have been raised. Some of them have ugly answers.

Many blame the current World climate and the status of America on George Bush and Co. Others blame it on the bombing of the Twin Towers. Or the Taliban. Or Osama Bin Laden, himself. Most blame in on a combination of all of the above. I disagree on ALL counts.

If you want someone to blame for the opinion the rest of the world holds of Americans step to your window and look out at your city streets. Do you see people reaching out, helping and taking care of one another? Do you see people stepping out of their SUVs to conserve fuel for things like heat and electricity? Do you see people cleaning up the streets, or dumping garbage without care?

Are there recycling bins on every corner? Is an active effort being made to conserve and preserve? What have you done to become more green at your house?

If you want someone to blame for the opinion the rest of the world holds of Americans step into your bathroom and look into the mirror — and then start questioning. What is it you can do to help? One thing I hope you are certain to do — a lesson Americans should have learned because it came at a very high cost — is to vote, and do so with deliberation and caution.

Am I still proud to be an American? Yes, most of the time, but I would like to be even more proud. I would like to be once again a citizen of a nation that the rest of the world looks up to — not out of fear, but because the world is better for our being in it.

Happy Birthday America. May your future find you living up to your promise of allegiance of life, liberty and justice for ALL.