|Remember Congress singing God Bless America on the steps of the Capitol?|
Can you tell the Democrats from the Republicans? The Independents?
I just finished watching the video of Dave Letterman's first show after 9/11 and was reminded how that shared experience managed (for a time) to bring all of us together in ways that, sadly, only tragedies sufficient to threaten our very existence seem able to do. While I did find myself wishing we could somehow sustain that unity in the absence of heart-stopping terror and/or universal grief, there was comfort in viewing recorded proof that, in those moments when the very fabric of our nation is tested, Americans still possess the capacity and inclination to stand as one against anything or anyone who threatens us. At our very core, we are still the United States of America.
The challenge to us now, as citizens who value our way of life, is to realize that serious threats to our country are not limited to skyjacked airplanes, suicide missions, or terrorist bombs. Sometimes the worst threats contain no physical elements of danger at all but are internal, indigenous, insidious, and all too often, invisible. They include unprecedented disrespect for the founding principles of our nation, disaffection with the constitution and its tenets, disharmony among ourselves and our leaders. They encompass the paralysis that comes from politicians and legislators holding petty self interest above the welfare of this country, the disillusionment that accompanies too many broken promises, and the despair of feeling (even in the process of exercising our right to vote) that we are entirely powerless to change anything because elected representatives on either side cannot be trusted to act in our best interests or the nation's.
Not long ago, I wrote a post invoking the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" (out of many, one). Undoubtedly, some found my call for that level of unity quixotic at best, but I beg to differ. Although I don't deny being an optimist, even an idealist at times, I am also a realist in my way. For me, the notion of being united as Americans does not conjure visions of walking in lockstep or even sharing the same opinions and/or beliefs. Quite the contrary. We do not have to agree with one another to be united; and in fact, the United States of America is all about the dynamism of not agreeing...being free to speak our minds, be heard, and negotiate a path forward that gives each of us enough of what we want while keeping our country afloat. The unity part is staying in the same boat (even though we have different rowing patterns), refusing to capsize it, and choosing to negotiate a rhythm that accommodates all of us because we are headed for the same destination and are willing to make personal sacrifices to get there. An overwhelming majority of Americans love this country dearly and want to preserve it. Therein lies the universal goal or destination, and sharing it makes us one in purpose. We are all in the same boat, united, and united people make necessary adjustments so they can row (accomplish their common purpose) together.
We did this after 9/11 and we can do it now, with our eyes wide open and firmly fixed on the prize. It is not impossible, not a pipe dream, not pie in the sky. It requires brotherhood, humility, and self-mastery. It demands a spirit of compromise and mutual respect. It hears every side with an open mind and a stronger desire to do right than to be right. It speaks the language of tolerance, discernment, and discretion. It begins with every individual.
I'm 60 years old, a baby boomer who has never felt as uneasy about our country as I do today. There is a lurking menace out there, a clear and present danger, and it is us. Which is exactly why we are in a position do something about it.
These firemen, Americans all, rose to the occasion.
So can we.