Our Country’s Grand Canyon

AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

 

I am weirdly patriotic. As cynical as I often feel about our country–about its sanctity of capitalism, its perverse bureaucracies–I have a ready-made soft spot for the pageantry of this land.

In the years following September 11th, I teared up singing the third verse of “America”: Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears….

When I traveled to Washington for work, I was drawn to the avenues crowded with granite-faced monuments, testaments of our people’s hard-fought efforts.

I choke up anytime a military officer tenderly hands a spouse the flag that moments ago draped a casket. It doesn’t matter whose.

There is something comforting about our systems, the simple drawings of our order: the conformity of interstate highway markings, the plain hues of printed money. Even the modern aesthetic of National Park signs moves me, the efforts to carefully note the blessed continental cathedrals wrought by time and, depending on your point of view, the Creator.

That frequent conflation of the efforts of God and the efforts of a nation has always bothered me. This doesn’t necessarily feel like God’s idea.

As someone who believes that from dust God created us, I also believe that we are born with a natural desire to hold in our hearts the idea of something bigger than ourselves–and that so many of us have filled that gap with Country, however we see it. For some, it is the awesome power of rockets’ red glare. For others, the calming amber waves of grain.

And yes, for many, there is nothing good about this place, in which we worship the almighty Dollar, in which our blue and black lives war, in which we wander from one desolation to another. Our national conversation has reached a point in which we can’t even agree to that “big idea” we want to fulfill us.

Perhaps an apt way of describing it is to say that a grand canyon divides our country.

Starting in my childhood, I’ve always loved the song “This Land is Your Land,” and the symmetry of ownership it implies. I get a kick out of the fact that I was drawn at a young age to a protest song–one that demands a piece of this democracy. What the song fails to define, and what I guess none of us have done a good job figuring out, is what all that ownership means.

All of us, rich and poor, black and brown and white, own a little piece of this country. So what do we do with it?

Our design is to abdicate that responsibility of ownership–we are a representative democracy, after all–but right now it feels like we ought to participate a little more.

land that i love

Yet none of our patriotic playlist compels us to act. God of our fathers, bless the U.S.A., land that I love, sweet land of liberty, in which we are proud to be an American, glory, glory, Hallelujah.

Even the Star-Spangled Banner has more questions than answers.

For those of us so frustrated with our current state and its media-obsessed national debate–health-care debates don’t get good ratings on tv, writes Kevin Williamson in his scathing review of President Trump in the conservative-leaning¬†National Review–there are no easy calls to action, no quick wins, no well-worn trails. So what do we do?

Well, today we barbecue. We take to Instagram and throw out our red, white, and blue bunting. We take on sunburn and watery beer and other pastimes. We endure a summer thunderstorm and keep the children awake beyond their bedtime, all so we can load them into the car to go watch the fireworks in town. We cheer at the bombastic finish. We listen to the national hymns in reverence.

We fill those gaps in our heart with the fullness of privilege and the idea of freedom. In what I can only describe as the most American of 21st-century dispositions, we’ll figure the rest out tomorrow.

Long may our land be bright, y’all.

 

 

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