Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Why I Won't "Leave the Country" if "X" Gets Elected

My older son, Joe, is, as all young people must, finding his intellectual way into the world. He is extremely inquisitive, very philosophical and he is creative in ways that make me exceedingly proud. But, as a young man, he is, of course, apt to latch on to things he has heard that stir passion in him. The other day, he echoed the ubiquitous "If Trump wins, we should leave this country."

It just so happens that this was said two days ago as we were walking away from Sankaty Lighthouse in 'Sconset, on Nantucket. Only a few minutes earlier, we had passed "Footlight," the home where my favorite writer, John Steinbeck, had written East of Eden. I had completely forgotten he had written the book on Nantucket until the tour guide pointed out the house. Of course, my heart leaped with delight and I quickly took a blurred picture as we drove past...

...but only a few minutes later, there was my son talking about "leaving the country." The proximity -- in not only inches and feet but in my heart -- to my most beloved writer caused a discordant resonance for me. My son had rung a bell that a thousand people a day ring...but this time, it sounded rattled, like I would imagine the cracked Liberty Bell would. And like the Liberty Bell (rung-again) would, it made me feel pride in a country with a deep history and with a roll-call of fine human beings who did things both great and unknown.

I saw Steinbeck, silhouetted in a window in Footlight and recording his self-doubt (someday they will figure out I am not as good as they say I am) in his journal as he wrote East of Eden. I saw Lincoln in dark meetings, his soft voice urging his cabinet to fight for the Union above all else. I saw a simple, courageous man from Philadelphia, in 1866, driving his family in a covered wagon, out past the Mississippi, to claim the land offered by the Homestead Act (an act that encouraged African Americans and single women to apply, by the way). I saw Aaron Copeland at the piano adding notes to his manuscript for "Appalachian Spring"; Elie Wiesel exorcising his demons at the typewriter; Dr. King, his tie slack, his eyes watering, pondering the next line of a famous speech. I saw boys from my generation playing dusty baseball on a weedy infield on a summer day just for the joy of it -- no thought of scholarships; no travel teams to keep up with; no pitching and hitting lessons on the schedule -- just playing until the light was too low, a prelude to the night's dreams of the big leagues. I thought of newly-married couples, with no money, making love because they had to; because love and family were a need, not a business proposition. I saw a line of heroes and inspirations: Leonard Slatkin with his baton; Barber penning the notes of his adagio; Mike Schmidt, confident and almost defiant at the plate; Vinnie Colaiuta in complete command the drumkit; my own father sitting center-chair in a big band with his magical silver trumpet; Dr. Robert Ryan, his voice cracking with emotion as he read Keats to our little graduate seminar class; my wife, Karen, exercising every single dark morning at 5:30, to stay strong; my sons growing into fine, sensitive and moral young men...

...I saw all of this as my son and I walked a gravel path under a hot blue sky, just after I heard the words: "leave this country." And it occurred to me: hell, no.

I told Joe that I am too proud of the real great people of this country to abandon it, either physically or mentally, just because of the behavior of high-profile creeps. I'll never give up hope for America. There are too many good people living good, just and sincere lives, who are the blood in the veins. The President is not the country. The loud-mouthed flag-wavers are not the country. The Tweeters and Facebookers who spend their time spreading their political agenda and un-researched claims are not the country.

We are the country. "We the people" -- the ones going to work for others or for themselves; the ones cutting grass on Saturday; the ones trying to get better at golf or music or writing or dancing or fishing or at just being people; the ones who are trying to teach their kids to be good men and women; the ones who have no time for politics and angry online arguments; the ones who would rather read a book than a meme; the ones who walk their dogs, rain or shine; the ones who stand comically in bathrooms with their spouses, brushing their teeth before bed -- we are the ones who make this country what it is.

No politician; no president, good or bad, can take that away from us or "bring it back" to us. I understand how those in charge can change our circumstances, but they don't shape our American-ness.

I have very little respect for many politicians, but they are just some of the many pimples on the beautiful face of a great country. Yeah, the Liberty Bell is cracked. It has to be. It tells the truth in its silent sound.

My son's response? "Good point, dad. Can we get lunch soon?"

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