A week or so ago, at noon, I was sitting on the back porch, gazing at the sky. I was dressed warmly for it was 50 degrees and windy, which is cold if you live in a hot climate. Suddenly – and this made no sense – I heard the distinctive jingle of an ice cream truck. Stephen King came to mind, and I imagined a truck full of killer clowns. It has been that kind of year.
King himself has tweeted that nothing he’s written is as scary as 2020 has been. To be precise, he said nothing he’s written “is as frightening as the current administration,” which is to state more clearly what has made America the epicenter of many of the horrors the world has endured this year.
My father was born exactly 100 years ago, on December 31, 1920. As I sat on the porch this afternoon, on another chilly day, I was thankful that he didn’t live to see this year. Then a pleasant memory came to mind.
I was seven or eight, and my family lived in Poughkeepsie, NY. My mother had a cousin who was married to an officer who taught at West Point. One November, they invited us to an Army football game. Army versus Nebraska, to be precise, for I’ll never forget my first real football game, nor the beauty of that late autumn day in the Hudson River Valley. I was happy, I felt loved. Army won the game, and I was confident that I lived in the greatest nation on earth.
How many children feel safe and loved today? How many feel that their team is winning the game (any game)? How many truly believe they live in the greatest nation on earth? Some, I am sure. I’ve read that 8% of the population believe the moon landing was fake, so there will be some. But not that many.
To me, that seems like a good thing.
“American exceptionalism” is a delusion we are better off without, a notion that seems almost obscene two days after the anniversary of Wounded Knee, when 338,000 families have empty chairs this New Year’s Eve. To me, it is not depressing to see through this myth – it’s almost freeing to see how fallible we really are, and to see all that we can no longer take for granted, from our health and the health of our loved ones to the survival of our democracy that powerful interests would like to destroy.
The wind has died down, and the last afternoon of the year is still. It feels like everything is on pause. No telling which way the weather will go this evening. No telling for certain which way the country will go over the months and years ahead.
So now is the time to imagine what kind of country we want to inhabit.
And pay attention.
And do what we can to bring it about.
And remember what the Dalai Lama said – Never give up!