A Letter to this Land that I Love

I just returned from a silent prayer vigil at the Quaker Meeting in the village. On this night when we seem to be drowning in a virtual sea of violent rage, deceit and conspiracy theories, what I needed was a moment of peace. Silence. Reconnection with real souls in person. Simply being present with each other and the unseen. Time to gather and sift through my swirling thoughts and conflict a final time. This night feels like our American dreams and ideals have been heaped onto a blazing pyre of our own virulent anger. I walked home alone in the dark, lit only by the late autumn moon through the trees.

I likely will not change a single person's mind tonight, and I accept that. What follows is words borne of conviction, carefully contemplated for many weeks and yet still as unsettled and ineloquent as I feel. I might naively hope that, in my time on God's sweet green earth and in this America that I love, I might have collected friends who would care to know my thoughts at this most critical time, even if they are of a different view. Taking a stand may cost me some too, but perhaps if our friendship has been based simply on perceiving me as a mindless echo for their beliefs, they'll move away from this disappointment with naught by my well-wishes for the future.

What I know is this; from its very beginnings my ancestors and more recently my friends have stood in conflict for this great American ideal. They fought to found it, and fought to preserve it from dissolving itself at another time when great rage and emotion threatened to rip it apart. They defended it overseas to face down fascism in two horrific wars, and faced danger in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East/central Asia too. I think of their sacrifices, and human flaws, and bravery, and suffering on this election eve. While I could easily "slide by" unnoticed with an absence of words, on this night when I believe to my very core that so much of what they fought for is imperiled, I take from them small courage and inspiration.

I share the dismay of most of my countrymen that we are at this place, faced with flawed candidates put forth by political machines largely funded by large interests that frankly little care for my words or most any other average citizen. Imperfect human beings, held under various myopic microscopes, and failing various sniff tests of one side or the other. They say things that make one group or another rage, to the point of blindness about the big picture. Each says very different things, and both have track records to examine and criticize. There is plenty to find failing.

Tomorrow we must choose. It is not a marriage proposal, it is a 4-year contract of stewardship over this nation and a large chunk of its day-to-day business at home and around the world. One of them gets the job tomorrow night. Whether we like it or not. And thus, the simplest question for me; which of them then better represents the ideals that I and my family cherish, and our future - personally and in this convulsing and confused nation?

My concerns at our table are deep, with worries about our healthcare, education, and yes, the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, But I fear that these next four years will be focused on a sobering old reality. The rise of Russian nationalism and authoritarianism has already swept into the Ukraine. One of our candidates praises their leader as better than ours, and says that our participation in NATO is negotiable unless they “pay up”.

So, if and when Putin's tanks cross the borders to reclaim their former Soviet territories in the Balkans, to the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and perhaps Poland too, who joined NATO as a bulwark of their freedom against an ancient enemy in an uncertain future, we say, what, "sorry, we didn't mean it?". NATO might be effectively dismembered and dismantled, and the deterrent in Europe that we have relied on for over 70 years is gone. I can't begin to wrap my head around that possibility - the trenches of World War I, Normandy and rolling back the Nazi blitzkrieg, Reagan urging Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" - surrendered, without a shot, over a pile of coins.

One candidate represents to me an existential threat to so many of those things that we as a people have held dear. Those principles for which our veterans laid down their lives, and that good people of conscience have struggled to make the law of the land. Said candidate has also shared praise for an old sworn enemy in North Korea, and Saddam Hussein too. Dictators and tyrants. Surely the legacy of Minutemen, and Buffalo Soldiers, and the Greatest Generation deserves better than that.

One candidate promises to return us to a state of greatness that we've somehow lost. To when, exactly? Perhaps to a time of separate but "equal"? Or only white male landowners voting? It's hard to see a time when things were better for the sum of all Americans than they are at this moment. I am no less free today than I was four, or eight or fifty years ago. But for my neighbors who might be black or gay, there is a great difference in their freedom. And for those who might be Muslim, or Latino, their freedoms seem to be less guaranteed than mine should the election tilt the wrong way.

There is a clear choice in temperament and experience in the candidates. One appears to be more focused on attacking and demeaning purveyors of perceived personal slights great and small, even at 3am. Blame and accusations in lieu of a plan and policy. It's always "they", "them" and "the others" who are responsible for everything - get rid of them, and go back, and all will be well again. The King speaketh.

No candidate can turn back the clock and return us to the halcyon days of American manufacturing, of bellowing steel mills, deep coal mining or building horse and buggies. New ideas and inventions change the game, and new opportunities arise. Americans make some of them, and Americans cash some of them in. And Americans lose. Ask the canal diggers, and the Edsel builders. In a free land of competition and capitalism, this is the story. Some worship that system, others seek to reshape it for personal gain, or for fairness to the multitudes. However you feel about it, it is the system we have on this election night.

I love my country, and I love her people. All of them - the red, the blue, the brown, the black and the white too. Once again, we are struggling with a virulent national flu and it's not pretty right now. A lot of ugly old attitudes that should have been buried deep in the past have been dragged into the light, and given voice and some inexplicable veneer of acceptability by many. To be blunt, I fear my angry, armed-to-the-teeth neighbor more than the Latino immigrant struggling to make ends meet and a better life for his family. My immigrant ancestors were greeted by those seeking to slam the door in their face, and then took their turn trying to slam the door on the wave that came behind them. They all failed in the effort, and rightfully so. When we try to make ourselves better by making less of someone else, it is we who are diminished and tarnished in the effort.

One hundred and fifty years ago, a greatly revered president faced the end of a bitter and bloody conflict, about to make peace with a full half of his countrymen who despised him as the very devil incarnate; "with malice toward none, with charity for all". I know enough of our history to know that we have been at this place before, of course. Periods of bitter and uncompromising conflict, punctuating or punctuated by periods of some relative stability and progress. This union has never been perfect, but it has lurched in fits and starts in that direction over its history. Women vote, and run companies, and run for president. People of all colors, faiths and languages gather at the Lincoln Memorial, and at Gettysburg, and the World Trade Center, eager to view the American ideal and spirit up close in its evolving and progressing glory.

I am clear in my conscience. I look around, and I see no "them" - only us. I'm far from satisfied with where we the people have allowed ourselves to go, and the resulting choice that we must make. It is clear that we have much to learn from each other, with much listening, and reconciling, and yes that evil ugly word - "compromising" - to build a better future for our children and grandchildren. Maybe we start working together in our neighborhoods and communities and counties and states to build new political structures so that we are not faced with this abyss again in four years. That more reasonable choices might then exist to truly bend the arc of power back towards we the people. We remain ever a work in progress.

But tonight, this is what we've got. The job is awarded tomorrow. I fear that what hangs in the balance is much more than any of us realize - far beyond social safety nets and border walls. Reluctantly, but resolutely, for my daughter, for your sons and daughters, for my neighbors and yours, for my country, I clearly have only one choice. #ImwithHer #Lovetrumpshate

1 comment

  • joyce'n'john
    Hey, just wanted to check in and see how you all are doing and how's the project going? Did you ever think to tell folks that you will help them record their songs. I remember you used to tell people that you would help them write/finish a song if they had something that they wanted to set to music. Do you still offer that service to the public? OK, hope to "see" you on the 15th. Blessings to you and yours, jandj

    Hey, just wanted to check in and see how you all are doing and how's the project going? Did you ever think to tell folks that you will help them record their songs. I remember you used to tell people that you would help them write/finish a song if they had something that they wanted to set to music. Do you still offer that service to the public? OK, hope to "see" you on the 15th. Blessings to you and yours, jandj

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