Veteran’s Day got me thinking about what divides us. Not the norm I know, but hear me out. If you watch the news and observe social media, it appears U.S. citizens are at each other’s throats—which of course some are, but that is not my daily experience. Instead, I find kind and decent folks who are good to one another and readily help out a stranger. You might accuse me of being naïve. You wouldn’t be the first. How does this connect to Veteran’s Day?
The evening before, I was watching the Vikings-Cowboys football game. During the game, the service of military personnel was highlighted and honored multiple times and ways by multiple sponsors. The message of thanks was for our young men and women being willing to give their lives for the freedoms of our democracy.
Then, Monday morning I heard the Crosby, Stills, & Nash song, Find the Cost of Freedom. It only has one couplet of lyric:
Find the cost of freedom. Buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you. Lay your body down
We are so divided that we cannot have a reasonable discussion about this cost of freedom. Is our democracy under threat from an outside invader that requires the loss of some of our citizens to die on the battlefield? Is the continued sacrifice of some and their families reducing the threat of terrorism, or is the unending war on terrorism bringing about more terrorism?
We are so divided that we cannot fruitfully walk these paths of discussion and inquiry to eventually get to the same place that I believe we all want to go—a safe, comfortable existence with our needs met with enough left over to enjoy life and love one another. We make the road by walking and we live in the world the we have made.
It is easy to succumb to the naiveté of the ease and comfort of better times. I was reminded of this today by of all things an album from 1975, “An Evening With John Denver.” Odd, you might think—both that I’m admitting to listening to this album and that it caused such thoughtfulness. (I’m to the Ds in my alphabetical procession through a collection of old (and new) vinyl.) What caught my ear was the joyfulness with which he spoke to the audience and the joy in their response. The magic of music is you don’t know what emotions and memories it will stir. I was taken back with a flood of emotions and flashes of simple, pleasant childhood memories of life as a middle-class American child in the 1970s.
And then this scrap of memory plunks down right in the middle of my positive emotions like a big bird shit on the hood of a newly washed car. I recall an exchange with an adult I knew and trusted motioning to a car in the driveway saying, “You know what Pontiac stands for don’t you? Poor Old Nigger Things It’s A Cadillac.” And there it is. The casual racism of a my “simpler” time from a person who I’m sure would now be horrified at such a statement. I know it does not reflect the ideals he raised his kids with and has lived by. It’s a stark reminder that the past some pine for, others dread.
Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history bends towards progress.” Change is difficult, especially if you are suffering and feel you are being left behind. Fear of change is easily then used by some to sow discord and secure power. We can either continue to walk separate roads divided by artificial barriers, trumped up differences, conspiracies, and propaganda pointing to false cause and effect dangers to our freedom and democracy or we can choose to turn off that noise and refuse to be divided and instead work together for the common goal of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. But we cannot go back to an easier and better time that doesn’t exist and progress is inevitable despite setbacks. It is up to us to not succumb to those fears and lose our empathy and grace for others. When we do, others become “Others” who’s rights it is all too easy to strip away and turn those others into objects of fear.
Which reminds me of one last bit of music from Greg Brown, that despite the title, is actually a call for unity.
Living in my beloved community
Take a look around and what do I see
See a lot of trouble, see a lot of tears
See a lot of beauty and I see it right here
Trump can’t have that
Trump can’t have that
Trump can’t have that
We ain’t gonna give it up
Look at the people, living on my own block
Look to the prayers from Standing Rock
Some want to conquer, some want to divide
Love is stronger and it’s deeper inside
Let’s keep talking and walking too
Let’s stay together, the whole way through
Let’s keep holding on to what is right
Let’s keep protecting every little life