As an officer in the United States Air Force, I’ve always felt divided in my political leanings. I voted for Sen.John McCain in 2008 and President Obama in 2012. My assignments carried me to bases across America, from Texas to Georgia to San Diego. In the military I’ve lived in both conservative communities and liberal communities, and I’ve served in Afghanistan and South Korea. One thing is clear to me from my travels, especially now that I’ve moved home to North Carolina to raise my children; the America that I’ve come to know, and the nation that I will always proudly serve, is not so fragile as this election leads us to believe.
It’s not hard to glean from this turbulent political season that we are a nation in pain. For all of the problems we face and all that drives us apart, there will be no easy fix in the months and years to come. We now live in a state of perpetual grief from the violence in our communities, we live with a heightened sense of fear from the threat of terror abroad and at home and too many of our neighbors still find the American dream out of their reach.
With all the noise and distractions of the campaigns and the daily drip of dour news on our televisions, I implore my fellow citizens to think for yourselves about the true nature of America’s greatness. I encourage you to celebrate our shared virtues rather than worship our individual victories. We’ve made a cult of success and an enemy of failure, but failure is not our enemy. Failure without purpose is wasteful. At our very best, we have learned to make an ally of adversity by mastering our fears of failure – failing to succeed in life, failing those we love who depend on us, maybe most of all failing to realize our potential.
I trust instead that life will be our teacher, and while each of us will acquire these lessons on our own path, it is my great hope that each of us will learn to draw on the deep reservoir of resilience that is built into our DNA as North Carolinians and as Americans. As a fighter pilot, I learned to harness my failures rather than flee from them. I learned, like so many I served with, that failure renews my drive and hones my performance. Our nation was formed by failures, not glory and superiority over others.
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From its inception, this country was forged by those fleeing persecution, the “losers” of other nations seeking sanctuary on the frontier of civilization. Even now, no mirage of glory to come will offer us salvation, only our deep commitment to the values of liberty and equality, one generation to the next. No enemy and no hero can hand us what is ours by birth – a community as diverse as any on this planet, united in our belief that we are stronger together than we are apart.
There is so much at stake in this election, but it’s much more than winning and losing a contest for control of the White House. I hope we will take a moment this election, and recall with humility and gratitude, the sacrifices made by those who love us that have carried us to this very moment. I hope that we will not lose ourselves in the bluster of chest-thumping bravado or the promises of what greatness may come, but rather wrap ourselves in the richness of the communities that surround us.
Our greatness won’t fit on a bumper sticker, and I thank God that it is far too vibrant and alive to be contained by one party or the other. Our greatness lies in our resiliency, in our determination to lift up rather than tear down. We are greater than this election, and no matter the outcome I implore you not to forget that fact. Put your faith in the goodness of your neighbors, in the resiliency of our people, in our shared commitment to liberty and our conviction that all humans are created equal. We are not a nation of cowards, and we will not live in fear.
Luke Layman is a former United States Air Force fighter pilot, now living in Cary.