I would like to take this opportunity to use my column to make a public confession:
I, Theresa Larson, am an American patriot.
The extremely large Webster dictionary that occupies a place on the desk of one of my co-workers describes these two words in the following manner - "American: Of or pertaining to the United States of America or its inhabitants" and "Patriot: A person who loves, supports and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion".
I have always been an American patriot. I love our country. I say the Pledge of Allegiance reverently, and with pride and devotion. I get teary-eyed when I hear the national anthem. I support our country's leaders. And I have always loved the sight of the American flag.
The events of Sept. 11 have done nothing but strengthen my pride in this country and fan the flames of my American patriotism.
And I am not alone.
Those of us who consider ourselves patriots have joined together to combat the slimy evil that has invaded our country and attempted to bring us to our knees.
But the attackers underestimated the will, stamina and resolve of Americans.
We have been thrust to the front lines. Some will serve in actual combat in foreign countries, looking to flush out the sick and twisted fanatics who have launched their evil crusade against America in the name of God. The rest of us, while still living on American soil, will fight another fight.
Our battles will consist of skirmishes to eliminate terror, fear and overreaction from our lives while simultaneously preparing and protecting ourselves from further harm.
It's not an easy task, for the villains are not easily recognizable. They walk on silent feet, work in the shadows and slither through the underworld network of terrorism. And their choice of weapons, until now, seemed incomprehensible.
Some self-proclaimed Americans feel they have the right to determine who is an American, and who is not, based solely on their appearance.
A good friend of mine, a fellow American patriot and a Lodi business owner, had an unpleasant encounter recently.
Working hard in front of his business, a car passed him and then stopped. Shouts began to emanate from the vehicle.
"Go back to where you belong! You don't belong here!"
My friend, an American citizen, was born in Kenya. He practices a faith called Hinduism. He is soft spoken and has skin the color of dark caramel. Patiently, he defended his verbal attackers.
"They don't know. They don't understand. They assume we're followers of Osama bin Laden. Yes, many in our faith wear turbans, but the turban of a Hindu or Sikh is different from the turbans of the Muslims. And we do not follow bin Laden simply because we wear turbans."
My friend chose to overlook the ignorance of his attackers.
I admire him. I find it more difficult to exhibit the same level of tolerance and understanding.
This country is based on several inalienable rights and freedoms. One of them is the freedom of expression. I am becoming increasingly impatient with those idiots who feel the need to abuse this right. Yelling hateful comments from a passing car or invoking other acts of hatred against those who practice a different religion, wear culturally traditional clothing or have skin color that is different from their own is unacceptable.
America has always been a refuge of the oppressed and a beacon of opportunity for the downtrodden. We call ourselves Americans and yet our roots lead back to countries far from American soil. Countries such as Italy, China, Ireland, Germany, Japan and the various nations of Africa. Countries which are too numerous to mention.
To suggest that this country should exist only for those who are "real Americans" exhibits the same dangerous, narrowminded, fanatical attitudes that prevail in the country that harbors the terrorists who attacked our nation.
America did not deserve the acts of terror that occurred Sept. 11 or the biological acts of terror that have occurred over the last week. No one should be able to spin this tragedy into something that reflects their own political or religious beliefs. These attacks were not the result of errant foreign policy, inept government officials or apathetic voters.
The attacks were not "of God," nor were they God's punishment for succumbing to greed. These attacks were deliberate, premeditated acts of evil perpetrated by individuals who have a personal agenda.
Their goal is to disrupt and destroy those American values we hold so dear, to strike at the hearts and emotions of Americans and to make a name for themselves throughout history.
And for those of you who find pleasure in being an armchair quarterback when it comes to the affairs and policies of this nation, I have some advice for you:
Get a life. Go to ground zero and dig through the rubble with your bare hands for the bodies of the innocent victims who left for work that day and never returned home.
Sit and listen to the weeping of the children who miss their mommies and daddies. Comfort the mother of an American serviceman or servicewoman who will be fighting to defend the freedom of our nation.
Work in our nation's capital for the constituents who represent ALL of America. Work to defend this nation and its freedoms. Work to make this world a better place. Don't just sit there and talk about it.
If you think America is so filled with fault, go live in Afghanistan where public laughter has been outlawed and prayer is not a freedom but a requirement. Go and live in the country where women are beaten with sticks if they show their face in public, where people are dying of starvation and disease, and where public executions are carried out in a soccer field for crimes that do not deserve the punishment.
Go live in that country that has had an ongoing war of one type or another for the last 27 years. Go live there and then come back and tell me how awful America is.
Our nation is suffering and I have no patience for those who would willingly pick at a festering sore. It appears that members of our own communities think that it's funny to call in bomb threats or send hoaxes via e-mail. It's one thing to have foreign nationals terrorize our entire nation. It's another to have one of our own continue the terror.
I will never be able to forget the images of the disaster that played out before me Sept. 11. And I don't want to. For those images make me remember the real tragedy - the loss of life, the loss of innocence - that occurred on that day. And Sept. 11 will forever remind me just how precious my American freedom is.
For I, Theresa Larson, am an American patriot.
Theresa Larson is the Lodi News-Sentinel's administration manager. She is married and the mother of five children. Her column appears the first and third Wednesday of the month. She can be contacted at 125 N. Church St., (209) 369-2761 or via e-mail.