My Two Americas

My Two Americas

Normally, I like to keep my posts kind of light and fluffy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of our nation. I think we all have been doing that, given the current social and economic climate.
Right off the top, I have to say that I have no business talking politics or the economy. I simply don’t have the knowledge base to tackle those topics, so I won’t make an ass of myself by pretending I can. I’m just going to tell you where I’m at, on a personal level, and based on my personal observations. So, this post is not about debating hot topics, that’s being done to death on every channel across America. This is simply where my conflicted heart is at, as I think about my world.

My first taste of American patriotism was from my German immigrant grandfather, my Opa. He loved America. Period. American was a beacon of light, hope, and possibilities for his young family as they left a war torn Germany and everything they knew.  And though it wasn’t until I was a young adult before I learned my grandparents life stories, I learned in the most simple way possible of his love for the country that adopted his family: a song. Neil Diamond,  America.

His anthem. Every New Year’s Eve, the album would come out, the needle would drop down, and the volume would go as high as it could go. And my Opa would dance, and sing, and pump his fist in the air with a catch in his voice and a tear in his eye as he bellowed the words in is wonderful accent, “…Comin’ to AMERICA! Comin’ to AMERICA! TODAY! TODAY!” I didn’t actually “get it” then- why that song  meant so much to him. But I loved it, and his reaction to it, so I stored it in the memory banks until I could understand it. And now I do. Funny thing about it, is that my grandparents weren’t so warmly received in their new country. I remember my grandmother telling me that in the first neighborhood they lived in, they were ostracized for being German. For some, it was synonymous for being a Nazi, or a Nazi sympathizer. So it wasn’t easy. But my grandfather never let those few tarnish his idea of ‘his’ America.

Melanie Cherniack's photo.
My Opa, center, surrounded by (l-r) Uncle Benny, Aunt Eva, my mom Ruth, Aunt Monika, Oma , and Grandma. Visiting The Big E.

Question: Can you count how many times you’ve heard The Star Spangled Banner? Me either. But I can tell you: I cry every time. Seriously. Every time. When you remember September 11, 2001, do you still get choked up at the memory of the way we came together as a nation? No color lines, no religious differences. Just us: Americans, United. Am I simplifying? Yes, of course. I know there were/are debates about the decisions made after 9/11. But I’m not going there, remember? I’m just going here: I remember there were so many flags flying, that they sold out in places. I remember that in stand-offish New Englang, we were talking to one another in the stores and on the streets. Smiling at one another. Waving. Hugging strangers, even! We were unified by a common threat, and bonded by loss and a shared grief over that loss. We showed our love and support for the men and women serving our country, and that thankfully carries on still today. We were Proud.

That’s my America, the one I love.

But now? Who are we? What have we become? How did this happen? Sure, there’s lots of explanations- from all ” sides” . Oh, wait… That’s the problem. We used to be, ultimately, on the same side. But now? We can’t even agree to disagree. And for as little as I know about world issues and politics, I know enough to see that we are a source for ridicule and contempt. They don’t even need to attack us, we’re imploding, we are self destructing. We are also no longer number one for economy, China has surpassed us. And I believe that no amount of rhetoric, be it my own or by those way more educated and eloquent than I, will stop it from happening. I’ll bet historical analysts will tell us that this is inevitable, that great nations rise and fall, and sometimes rise again. It is the nature of history to repeat itself, because human nature makes it so. Objectively, I know this to be true. I just don’t want it to be true of us.

Yet, here we are. Failing our veterans, leaving our children a legacy of debt, a polluted landscape, and the consequences of our greed and apathy, not to mention an ever growing divide between our own people fueled and encouraged both politicians and by the selfish and reckless antics of the media, who once upon a time reported facts, not made them up as they went along. And that’s only a fraction of what’s wrong.

This can’t be my America.

My child’s heart wishes we could just live by Kindergarten rules. A very smart man by the name of Robert Fulghum wrote a brilliant, poignant piece entitled “Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. Please read it:

http://www.robertfulghum.com.

It’ll give you that nostalgic smile, I promise.  Ohh, if could be so simple. Alas, while my child’s heart wishes, my grown ups mind knows- with more than a little resentment- that that will never come to pass, will it? Ah, see, my child’s heart still makes me ask, hoping my grown ups mind is wrong.

I have no answers, or none that would be taken to heart. I’m too, old, to world wise and weary to say, “Can’t we all just get along?” My idealism is married to my realism. Yet, despite knowing there is a duplicity in everything and everyone, I feel that: my two Americas, as they stand now, should not be. And yet, they are.  We all know there are two sides in our nature- good to evil, right to wrong, peace to conflict, one must balance out the other…but we are out of balance. It is fact that we cannot have one, without acknowledging the other. I get this, I know it, and I even accept it. What I don’t accept is the imbalance.

I still am a Proud American,  despite the terrible imbalance we are experiencing. It’s in my DNA to be a proud American. It’s in the respect and pride I have for my loved ones (and all) who have given of themselves to defend this country abroad. It’s in the gratitude I have for our hometown defenders, who daily give of themselves to keep us safe, despite the danger, the constant criticism, scrutiny, and contempt they are subjected to. It’s in my love of Sunday football, country music, burgers and fries… You get the idea. But that other America, that one that I wish not to lay claim to, it’s big. It’s big and it’s bad and it’s an ugly stain making its mark on our beautiful flag. We need to stop it from spreading. And we better start doing it quickly, if not for ourselves, then for our children’s sake.

It’s time to remember who we are, what we once were, and who we should be, and pass a better legacy to our children…. we are meant to be America the Beautiful.

 

 

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