Dec 27, 2007
December 27, 2007
The dishwasher is churning, the loud slosh competing with the television news for my half-hearted attention. Normally I am planted in front of the screen, watching the latest clips of carnage, listening to what’s happening here at home, around the world, even in space and deep underneath the oceans.
But tonight I am brooding, brooding about my country. America, America…
Like protagonist Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, I have come unstuck in time. My mind is wandering; wandering and groping to make sense of my life as a child, a young adult, a new mother and now, a disillusioned citizen of a country I no longer recognize.
When I was very young, my heart would thrill to parade bands playing Sousa marches, Old Glory waving proudly - and rightly so, I thought then - in the breeze. I loved seeing the upright young men in uniforms, so innocently patriotic, striding in lockstep, ready to defend us from any danger.
My father and my uncles had served in World War II. One of them, my mother’s youngest brother Mikey, is buried in the country of his parents and grandparents and on and on before them: Italy.
I had heard the stories of the exotic lands where these men had met and conquered the enemy determined to create a fascist empire around the globe; of how millions of people from the Allied nations had come together and sacrificed food, tires, and their sons and daughters to save the world from mind control, from demagoguery and propaganda, from ethnic and religious hatred so damaging that many never lived through or recovered from it.
The goodness of my country, so beautifully epitomized by Lady Liberty holding her blazing torch for the world to see, was not in question back then.
I am not so naïve as to forget the many shameful episodes that peppered America’s birthing and sprawling growth – the Native American genocides, the religious persecutions of the early New England settlers who dared to disbelieve in Congregationalism, the enslavement of those brought into our country as property to labor for the rich, the exploitation by business of each new wave of immigrants, especially women and children, who sought the streets paved with gold, the public tarring, feathering and execution of people suspected of anarchist or Communist sympathies.
And yet, even with those blotches and black marks stretching across America from sea to shining sea, I could and did trust the people who governed us, believing that those who assumed the enormous burden of overseeing the growth, governance and well-being of our country had the best and highest motives in their hearts and minds.
Today, the evidence of this naiveté surrounds us. Scandals - personal, financial, political – are a large part of our daily diet of news. Violence of the most gruesome kind – against people of all colors, creeds, ethnicities, as well as animals – grows ever more ubiquitous.
Our children and grandchildren will grow inured to this. I, a product of a generation in which swearing was the penultimate act of rebellion, am dismayed to see how every industry uses sex and violence to sell everything from video games to children’s clothing to cars, hotels and toys and seemingly, almost everything else available for public consumption.
But most of all I miss hope – “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” I used to be the eternal optimist. In the darkest days I would find a gleam, a glimmer of hope for the future.
Now, with the untimely death of my son and the crumbling of our civil liberties and rights, these eyes that once viewed the world with hope are jaundiced, bleary with the surfeit of bad air, bad water, bad food, bad governance. I want to recover hope as it flutters, not in my soul but elusively just beyond my outstretched hand.
Friends are a blessing and have restored some of my belief in the essential goodness of a large part of humankind, but for every warm gesture, loving message, quiet bit of companionship there seems to be some fresh ugliness just beyond.
I pray – daily – to my vision of the Divine, for peace, for plenty, for tolerance, acceptance, understanding; for freedom to be.
Is this possible? Is this foolish? Hope has fled, but prayer has not.
I want my country back. I want not a dreamer’s vision of impractical bliss but the country that nourished the ambitions and hopes of so many over the centuries. I want to feel a part of something larger and more glorious than what we have now. I want to be able to say, “Yes, I am an American” and have that statement be greeted with smiles and friendliness, not cynicism and resentment.
I have no answers, I have no grand plan, no idea that will make this happen. It will take the shared energies of millions who feel the same to recapture America’s promises that seem, today, to have been irrevocably broken.
Perhaps, as the new year fast approaches, we can forge a new alliance with people of peace and goodwill around the globe to rebuild hope and belief in the future of our country, our world. Perhaps not.
But, as the adage says, “Not failure, but low aim is crime.” Trying can only make us better human beings.
© 2007 RC deWinter
Dec 27, 2007 7:05pm
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