What Have We Become?
When I was a little kid, talk show host, famed for “The Rest of the Story,” Paul Harvey would play a segment by a Canadian about how the United States could always be counted on to be there in a crisis, how the country was great, the people kind and generous. It seemed like every year, around Thanksgiving, I would hear this retelling.
As a little kid, I had no doubt my country was great. That we were kind. We aided other countries in need. I was surrounded by good people. I grew up in a big city so I had friends of all ethnicities and religions.
No, I was not ignorant to the strife. I was in New York City during the riots of ’69, saw people marching, was in a bus driving through burning New York, Baltimore, to arrive in DC where the burning still continued. I was tiny and didn’t understand it all, except that riots followed when good people were assassinated. Simple, but for a little kid, true. I didn’t understand the extent of injustice or prejudice, but I never saw either first hand.
As I grew older, the world I lived in was still kind. We could be counted upon to draw together in a crisis. We may have voted one way or another, but we were still Americans, proud to be Americans, stand together as Americans. We were religious or non-religious. But I thought we all were good to each other.
In the past week, I’ve been appalled by a group of individuals who have claimed that the virus killing people without prejudice across the globe is a hoax, that it has been created to oust an individual from power, cast doubt on his ability to lead and then that Americans should return to work so that the economy can be stabilized, renewed. The party of pro-life calling for mass suicide to protect the economy. Money over life.
This evening I watched a movie called “American Folk” about two people stranded in California on 9/11 trying to get their way back to New York. It reminded me of who we were almost 20 years ago. I remember being in DC on 9/11, how we all watched the terrible events unfold, grasping for every bit of news, calling loved ones, being united, how driving home from work I could see the smoke rising across the river where the Pentagon was on fire, and thinking of my partner who had flown across the country the night before and how fate could have irrevocably intervened.
As I watched the movie, I thought to myself, no, we were not cruel then. The sense of entitlement overtaking society had begun but not to the extent that we would volunteer others to die to save ourselves.
The internet is frequently blamed for desensitizing. People will say things on the internet that they would never say in “real life.” That used to be true. People now say things in real life as well, things that I would never have heard spoken when I was a child. They also drive their cars as if they are the only ones on the road. They speak their opinions as if theirs are the only ones that matter. They live as if their lives are the most important. Because no one else is real? No one else matters?
My feeling is that what is happening in the United States has not happened everywhere. I have heard of no country more worried about its economy than its people. And, that is as it should be because without people what does an economy matter? Greatness is not a dollar or an expensive car or house. It’s the people. It’s family and friends and reveling in humanity, the splendidness of being human, the greatness when we are great. Despite what a certain segment of society believes, our lives and the lives of the ones we love are not based on monetary value but on love and kindness and human decency. I just hope we as a collective whole discover those attributes again.
I may be naive, but I do believe that Americans will not let ignorance and greed dictate our roles for the next month. When we realize that we can impact the lives of all of those around us, we become a little less selfish, a bit more giving. I hope. I choose life over money.