we're traveling on,
I wonder what went wrong.
I can't help it, I wonder what went wrong."
~Paul Simon, from "American Tune"
|At least I have a box of sparklers / Cindy La Ferle|
So, it's the Fourth of July weekend and I'm not feeling particularly festive or patriotic. To borrow a line from the Paul Simon tune that's been replaying in my head all weekend, "I'm just weary to my bones."
I'm weary of the direction in which this stressed-out country is lurching.
I'm weary of the animosity fueled by the current administration -- and weary of waiting for someone in power to make a dignified attempt to help unite us, to bridge the growing divide between finger-pointing Democrats and self-righteous Republicans.
I'm weary of the toxic storm-cloud of mistrust that now hovers over so many of my social relationships. The only way we seem to get along, I've noticed, is by avoiding the topic of politics altogether. This worked well during the first raw weeks after the 2016 election. But how long can we keep pretending there isn't a big, fat elephant in the room? And even if we try to tip-toe around it, how superficial is that? The way I see it, if I don't feel free enough or comfortable enough to discuss deeply important, life-altering issues with certain friends, well, something is lacking in those relationships.
|Red Run fireworks / Cindy La Ferle|
Yet I know there are many things to love about this country.
I still honor the dreams and ideals my relatives brought here from northern Europe. Like all the other immigrants I've met, my folks viewed America as a land of tremendous opportunity. In particular, my rural Scottish grandparents wanted my dad, my uncle, and me to earn our college degrees. They encouraged us to work hard and to extend hospitality to others. My grandmother often reminded me how lucky I was to live here -- and how much she appreciated the basic advantages that most Americans took for granted.
Even as a kid, I cherished our nation's First Amendment rights, and I marveled at how hard we fought to earn our freedom of speech in Colonial America. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to express my own viewpoints and share my experiences -- always with the hope that my work would resonate with others or benefit them in some way. I'm proud to have been a card-carrying member of the local and national press for three decades, despite the fact that our president now refers to my fellow journalists as "the enemy of the people."
Up until this year, I've never felt as if my First Amendment rights were threatened on any level, large or small.
This spring, however, during a press tour of local businesses, I purchased a T-shirt stamped with an anti-Trump message. The sentiment was light and humorous -- and nowhere near as crude or vulgar as the insults Trump himself hurls at anyone who disagrees with him. Yet it clearly pinched a political nerve when I pulled it out of my bag and showed it to a fellow passenger who asked what I'd purchased when we re-boarded the bus.
|Red Run fireworks / Cindy La Ferle|
"You'd better be careful with that shirt. It's disrespectful," the woman scolded me, her eyes narrowing. "Watch where you wear it, because most people don't agree with you."
So much for celebrating freedom of expression -- even on a silly graphic T-shirt. Since then, I haven't had the guts to wear that shirt in public. As one of my best friends half-jokingly reminded me when I shared the episode with her, this is a fine example of how censorship begins.
So there you have it. I wish I weren't so disillusioned, embarrassed, appalled, stressed-out, wounded, and disgusted by American politics today. I want to feel proud to be an American again.
Meanwhile, I'll keep studying the issues and questioning the leadership in power -- and I'll keep hoping for a brighter, more civilized future. I'll continue to give thanks for the opportunities I've had from the moment of my birth. Because that's what good Americans do. Regardless, my loyalty and respect have to be earned. I will not be bullied, tweeted, insulted, provoked, duped, or shamed into patriotic submission. Bring on the fireworks. ~CL