When I was 9 years old, my father took me to see the Mets play at Shea Stadium. Tom Seaver was pitching; at the time, he was by far my biggest baseball hero. As I sat in the stands, I waited anxiously. I watched the players warm up on the field, listening to the roar of the jetliners overhead from LaGuardia Airport. I don't remember the game or who won. I don't even remember who the opposing team was, but what I vividly remember was the playing of the national anthem.
The players, coaches and umpires lined up, and everyone in the stadium stood as the anthem began to play. Something strange started happening to me - something I had never experienced before in my extensive nine years on this Earth, and something that continues to happen to me some 40 years later every time the anthem is played.
I started to weep.
With tears running down my face and my hand over my heart, I stood perfectly still, not understanding why I was weeping. It would take some maturity to enter my life before I could begin to comprehend the meaning. As that maturity began to take hold, I realized it was simply ... American pride.
Pride in the fact that I was an American. Pride that I lived in a country that has done more good in the world than any other in the history of mankind. Pride that I lived in the greatest nation in the world, where I could become anything I dreamed to be and a country where I possessed the freedoms that so many people across the globe could only dream about. A nation that has freed more people from oppression. A nation that, when unified, becomes a nation of great achievers.
But there is a dark truth that has revealed itself.
America is dying.
Where I see American excellence, others see American domination. Where I see freedom to achieve your greatest dreams, others see injustice and inequality. Where I judge my fellow Americans by the quality of their character and see them only as Americans, others separate our fellow Americans into hyphenated groups where the word "American" always comes second.
I see a lack of pride in being an American from so many today, and that brings a dark cloud over our nation and our people. Many of our leaders apologize for being American, while others create legislation that punishes American exceptionalism under the banner of "fairness." Our leaders reward groups whose policies and influence have bankrupted many cities and states and punish those who produce.
The election in November will come down to two types of Americans - those who see America as the greatest country in the world, and those who see America as the most unfair country in the world.
Which American are you?
• Lee Kennedy of Stagecoach is an author and freelance writer whose works can be found at faithfamilyfreedom.com