Sunday, June 13, 2004

The net is at it's least, amazing in its coincidences.

"Oh beautiful, for heroes proved,
In liberating strife,
Who more than self, our country loved,
And mercy more than life..."

It is a Friday. This particular morning, I was wakened to the news of Ray Charles' death. I was thinking, just like Leslee, that I'd rather see us memorialize him than Reagan, although I'm sure this is just partisanship. So an hour and a half later, I'm driving through the ATM - technology at least has brought us this miracle of readily available cash wherever we go here in the States - but that is a different subject. News of presidential funerals and car bombs in Iraq blares away on my car radio.

Anyway, there is a Jeep Cherokee in front of me, one of the older ones I still wish I drove but don't because of the lousy gas mileage. Another middle aged woman at the wheel, getting her cash at 8:30AM. With a bumpersticker. I wanted to jump out and talk to this woman at the ATM, that she could have precisely nailed the feeling I was having at that moment listening to the news. It took one of those patriotic stickers you see on so many cars since 2001, "Proud to Be an American" and it added a question in front of the traditional sticker "Are you Still"
No I wanted to yell at her, no I'm not!
But I kept my mouth shut, she is pulling away and I have cash to get.
The radio drones on about buying car insurance and bad film developing and I head onto the freeway for the drive out through west county to an offsite meeting.

The commericial breaks end, and the DJ talks a bit about Ray Charles, his life, his history, and then go on to play a song in his memory.

"America, America, may God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain devined."

And the rage sets in, you see, because I can find nothing noble about what's happened in the last couple of years. Instead of liberating strife, it seems we've only added to it.
But the words continue, and the emotions shift to an intense place of grief, that I cannot sing along with pride.

"And you know when I was in school,
We used to sing it something like this, listen here:

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain,"

And I am driving through rich green farmlands, past groves of filbert trees, rows of berry bushes, hillsides covered with grape vines, mountains visible 50 miles before and behind me.

"If you're no longer proud, why don't you leave?" the patriotic ask.

Oh my God I am proud. I am proud of the kids I work with in the schools each week. I am proud of the hard work the generations before put into building businesses and a livelihood for their families. I'm proud of the constitution and the bill of rights. I'm proud of the incredible natural wonders and that some of them still exist, under protections, inadequate yes, but protections. I'm proud of our ATMs and our affinity for Sponge Bob and that teen pregnancies and suicide rates are dropping again. I'm happy to live somewhere I am supposed to be treated equally. I think Americans are incredibly generous and creative. And I love the land here. The vast diversity of ecosystems that can take me from a sandy beach to a rainforest to a city to a glacier to a high desert plateau to a deep river canyon all in the span of a day's drive. Yes I can sing along. But only part of it now, and I feel as if I've been robbed.

I am proud to be American, but I'm not talking about our government, or our military, or democracy, or any of those things that drive the bumper sticker business.

"But now wait a minute, I'm talking about
America, sweet America,
You know, God done shed his grace on thee,
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in a brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea."

We need the concept of brotherhood to extend beyond our borders now.
Miguel, these blogs may feel like the mumblings of a man who paces his living room, but I hope you don't feel you are the only person experiencing this anger and despair with the events of the world. And while we may only be dealing in clarifying intentions, it is intentions that prepare us, guide us to act.

God help us rediscover our mercy.

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