Watching the news tonight I heard myself being called a lot of names I am not. “Damn commie, socialist, a do-nothing, unpatriotic, unAmerican.” On the very off chance that you dear reader see me through this lens, I’d like to introduce myself to you. Though I am a Democrat I am non of the above.
When I was 15 my parents, avid travelers, took my sister and me to Moscow. It was the height of the Cold War but Americans were permitted to travel there in extremely limited number. We were among the lucky few. Going from our world to their’s was akin to entering into a black and white movie. Even a 15 year old could see the soul crushing monotony etched into Moscow faces. With no competitive commerce, no possibilities for new anything on anyone’s horizons, individual expression and entrepreneurial spirit that are so much a part of the free world had been sucked into a black hole. I suffer no illusions about what life could become for the human spirit under a communist or socialist system that allows few freedoms. I had similar impressions in Beijing in the mid 80’s when I got to go there on a black market visa.
I’ve since had the chance to return to both of those magnificent capitols over the last decade which though they have challenges (don’t we all), now thrive. Judging by the ebullience of their 21st century citizens, the former down trodden-ness had nothing to do with them but rather with the repressive systems under which they had lived.
I am not a do-nothing. I contribute, work, work hard, ok..play hard too, I stay relatively up to date with trends, news, world events, new books. I chase facts, not doggedly but I rely on a compilation of accredited news sources through which I form my own opinion. I give back, I enlist and yes I could and should certainly do a good deal more than I do.
I am patriotic. Having been raised overseas I got to experience first hand the envy with which parts of the world used to eye us. Because we did not experience America tangibly in our daily walk we were free to know it as an idea, an ideal even, a dreamscape…the land where you really could become whatever and whomever you aspired to be. For many years I attended the American School in Japan. Our student body boasted 32 nationalities at the time and countless spiritual disciplines. As a community we were living proof of the best of America’s intent to welcome all and to cherish the ability to live harmoniously with persons of all faiths. The can do, shimmering American grit with a forward pressing optimism were no doubt romanticized through distance…but every time I came to the US I felt renewed by a spirit of life’s unfettered possibilities and unlimited horizons.
I vote, I pay taxes. I pray. I do not pray against anyone. Not anyone. Not ever.
If you and I happen to be on different sides of the aisle, I bet that if we were to talk for even a short while we’d find we have a good deal more we agree on than not. I bet we both love our families, want clean water to drink, want our kids to be able to read well and have good critical thinking skills. We’d want for them to be industrious and to contribute to their communities as part of a fuller life. I’d bet we both want decent roads, health care we can afford and would feel for a down trodden immigrant family if we ever we had the occasion to talk with one.
Shortly after Nancy Reagan died, I read an interview with I believe it was Larry Speakes who had become Acting Press Secretary following James Brady’s injury from Hinckley’s bullet. Speakes recalled that once President Reagan was out of danger from the wound sustained, he’d been in conversation with Mrs. Reagan strategizing on who might be the best person to visit the recuperating President at his hospital bed. A minister perhaps or close friend? Mrs Reagan insisted it be Tip O’Neill knowing that an invigorating conversation with someone with whom her husband did not see eye to eye would be the best possible tonic. The meeting came about and as Speakes was leaving the hospital room with Mrs. Reagin he’d turned around to witness Speaker O’Neill on bended knee holding the President’s hand as they, together, recited the 23rd Psalm. Now that’s beautiful, just beautiful and representative of the best of America, representative of the best in any of us. It’s also common sense behavior. When the low roads diverge there is always the high ground on which we can meet. They found it. We can too.