I wish I could borrow a star to stand upon to see below me this land and its people. I wish for a moment I could be the Creator’s eyes taking in the truth of who and how we are and find the Creator’s perfect words to tell what it is I see. Then I could not fail to find voice for what needs to be said, and heard, and owned.
Shy of a star, however, mortal eyes tend to define their own truth and imperfect words speak of our humanness.
A land defines its people at least as much as people define their land. To capture and understand the character of the American people, it can only help to first consider its origin — America itself.
I Am America
Outlined by oceans Atlantic and Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande, the northern boundary waters and the touch of Canada, the far edges of Alaska and the western reaches of Hawaii, I am a land long and wide and large, torn from the souls of native nations by immigrant others with a vision of freedom for all, and justice for the least among us. A land born of transitional dreams, some dying much too soon, others grown and growing to realities beyond imaginings; of lives craving meaning and fulfillment. I am a land of natural treasure; of silent canyons, whispering streams and raucous rivers, of mountains cathedraling into forever skies; of coastlines; of farmfields and wilderness, deserts and oceanlakes; of ripe and pregnant soils and sun-ovened sands, shy minerals and weather that scrubs and sculpts the seasons’ surfaces. Vastness immeasurable; riches still unearthed.
I am a land of hamlets, villages, towns and cities, connected by scribbled pathways, rutted roads and marble highways. A land of commerce and community, of discovery and invention. A land of history – tragic and transforming — made and in the making. A land of reaching to and even through the stars, toward a becoming, toward a better than what is, out of — then and now — the hurts of the edges of not-yet-knowing, out of the questions and the learnings from mistakes and breakthroughs, out of making more of whatever was less than what is meant to be. I am, above all else, a land of people, highborn to homeless, who call themselves Americans.
I Am an American
Let me tell who and what I am as well as what I am not. I am no more than flesh and blood, with bones that age and break and a mind both blessed and diseased with all that is human. I walk with honest pride but also with a sometime strut, betraying a sense of righteousness that can offend.
I live among others having unapologetic dreams, but also unmitigated arrogance; a heart-large people at times smaller in mind than they need to be. I have eyes I brag about as farsighted, with vision peripheral enough to embrace the world, but often narcissistically narrow and unable to see beyond the tip of my nose. I have, unfortunately, a sense of self, an attitude, sadly perceived by others as “We-have-it-right; you-do-not!”
I have hands I like to believe are giving hands, helping those “less fortunate” on levels below and worlds away, leaving me with a blind-to-self smug feeling of sharing God’s graces. But they are taking hands as well, if not more so, even from the beginning: hands hungry for the conceits of personal power; tight-fisted hands, unfortunately necessary in a world yet to evolve beyond such needs.
I have a strength that is soft with sensitivity, and arms spread as wide as fingertips can reach, welcoming diversity, I say; but a strength visibly hard-muscled, with arms stubbornly crossed at the chest.
I have a spirit almost adolescent in ideals, that at times blinds more than enlightens, setting me up for being used or, worse, for taking on a true-believing, no-one-is-better attitude that alienates and isolates.
I have a voice, amplified as no other in all of history, that laughs and shouts and sings and orates in the best and worst of ways; that invites, intimidates, blesses and damns.
And I have dreams: Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy, Martin Luther King dreams! Of politics and peace becoming synonyms across this land and among all peoples of the world. Dreams of children living and dancing into dreams of their own; of men and women seeing, accepting and respecting one another; of the elders among us listened to — and learned from — and honored — and cared for. Dreams of war becoming as extinct as Eden, together with prejudice, and envy, and hate.
I am an American –- with skin of many colors, but blood red, bones white, body and soul that make me one with all who live, breathing shared air in this piece of history, searching for the meaning of it all.
I am an American, young to this world as nations go. I am still looking for my way through history and into a newness of life that has more of a chance to get it right, or at least closer to right than others have in ages past.
I am an American, raw with energy, soul-heavy with past abuses of native and slave, restless with curiosity and the need to create; impatient with finding in this land’s hallmark, freedom, all that is within every one of us; within my self the courage, with God’s help, to reach toward the becomings of a just tomorrow.