A Call to Love America

 

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A wall in my patriotic foyer

I have been largely silent with my blog for several weeks for two large reasons. It’s report card and report card conference time and my primary work by necessity takes priority over working on my fourth novel, my writing life in general, and basically all other areas of my life. This is nothing new, there are known stretches in a teacher’s year where the work of an educator overshadows everything.

The second reason, however, has been eating away at me. As a writer, I naturally turn to express myself with my pen, or in modern terms my keyboard. I have been bothered by so much that has happened in our country over the recent past and in particular the lack of civility in our political discourse. Yet I don’t wish to write a political piece and if you read on, I hope you will agree with me that this is indeed a bi-partisan expression, rather than a taking of sides.

I grew u in a military family and being patriotic, loving our country and being emotionally stirred by our anthem, flag and taps played on Post in the evening was not something reserved for a few holidays each year, but part of our daily living. I remember as a teenager being upset when my daddy retired, albeit partly because my parents wanted me to be able to complete high school in one place. If he wasn’t an army officer anymore, then who were we as a family?

I think it took until after college for me to identify as an American civilian and yet I still chose to serve my country as a public school teacher. All my years teaching I have led students each morning in the saying of the pledge, indoctrinating them into this basic exercise of patriotism and hopefully conveying a respect and reverence for our great nation.

The lens I view America in is influenced by our family’s years in military service, my college educated parents and the financial security we lived in and I realize that my experience is not the same of many of my fellow Americans who have experienced much more difficult paths simply because of the color of their skin, their religion, or even their economic status. Yet so many of these fellow Americans love America just as I do and some possibly more, as they have had to have much more faith in that American dream that my experience had somewhat taken for granted.

I have a bachelors and a Master’s degree and my bachelor’s degree is in political science, I love history and government, but one thing I learned in studying our political history is that there has always been an ugly side to it. Even our founding fathers were subject to slander and mocking words and cartoons. There have been periods in time when lines have been crossed and extremists have taken devastating and illegal steps, think John Wilkes Booth. But it seems that in these modern times it has reached beyond the public political figures to private citizens, opposing sides claiming the opposition is somehow evil and that we should not tolerate people who are different from ourselves. To say it’s disturbing is an understatement in my opinion.

So what is a patriot, a lover of America to do?  I would say turn away from the two dark paths of vitriolic rhetoric from the left and the right and chose the illuminated path in the middle, have civil discourse on issues, keep the focus on issues, have a basic respect and empathy for all human beings. Work to solve problems rather than just assign blame regardless of whether it is well-founded or not. It would be nice if this could be exemplified from the leadership of our country top down, but if the last couple of years are any indicator, I think that is unlikely to happen.

But here is one of the great things about America, we as a people, from the ground up are quite powerful in bringing about change. We were formed by a revolution, we have changed the conditions in this country, not just by passing laws, but by movements that brought women the right to vote, improved conditions for workers, and civil rights. Who says we can’t do it again. If we as a society reject incivility and ugly rhetoric, if we as a society focus on our shared love of country and a mutual respect for fellow human beings we can bring about the change.

While I have no intention of leading a national movement, I know that choices I make in my daily life on how I treat others can have a ripple effect with all I come in contact with. If enough of us do it the kindness will grow and swell until those at the top will be influenced to change their ways.

So I’m using my small little blog that is usually about southern life and how that influences the writing of my novels to advocate for an issue that is dear to my heart and too important to ignore.

LOVE America! Love it enough to choose love over hate.

 

 

Reflections at a Wedding

 

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The Gadsen House in Charleston, South Carolina

I went to a wedding Friday night, after a long day of a long week and dare I say one of the craziest in the political realm of our country and frankly I was exhausted. I rushed home from work to go from teacher causal Friday (jeans and spirit wear) to hot rolling my hair (although with the high humidity, not sure why I bothered) and semi-formal wear.

In the novel I’m currently working on I have a wedding scene to write and was anticipating that this event would inspire.  I was not disappointed, but I was surprised at what provided the most inspiration.

As expected a Charleston wedding set in a historical house and courtyard provided a beautiful setting, At times it felt fairy tale like, with the string lights, candles and uplighting in the courtyard. The food was outstanding, particularly the jumbo fried shrimp wrapped in bacon and the fried green tomato bites at the cocktail hour. There were three food stations for the dinner, the shrimp and grits being my favorite. The music from a strings group prior and during the ceremony to a DJ who played a wide range of music, from Patsy Cline and Frank Sinatra during dinner to crowd favorites like the Cuban Shuffle during the dance party.  The timetable for the first dance and dances with parents to the tossing of the bouquet and the sparkler send-off of the newly minted couple was impeccable, truly a beautiful and well-run wedding.

Yes all the above was more than enough to mine for inspiration, but what I found most impactful was the true love and respect that brought these two youngsters (I can call them that because I have known the groom since he was a pre-schooler and I taught the bride and her sister when they were in the first grade) to the altar and to vow a life-long contract with each other. They have been a “couple” since middle school, friends first, growing into a teenage romance and blossoming into a love that will carry them to old age. I truly got the feeling that even though they were surrounded by the beauty of a traditional Charleston wedding, if they were exchanging their vows in concrete windowless room, it would have been just as beautiful.

The ugliness of the past week in our nation’s narrative dissipated from my mind and reminded me that love and respect can trump hate and intolerance. This couple will build a life together, and I’m sure that there will be days that will be ugly, either between them or from outside forces, but I have no doubt they can persevere, grow stronger and move into a more harmonious time in their journey.

I want to believe that about our country too. We are in an ugly time, but can we move forward with compassion and love for our fellow citizens, even when we don’t agree on something? Can we see the bigger picture, that this is a piece of our history we can learn from, grow stronger and become better?  I still believe the answer is yes!

I may be in the minority in that I am more moderate and centrist than the so-called left and right, but like the bride and the groom who met in the middle and then walked down the center aisle together, I want to see our politicians do the same for the betterment of our country. I want to see the one-hundred senators, get back to a place where they set the example of respect, principles, and morality. Then perhaps other branches of government can follow suit and who knows maybe society in general.

As part of the ceremony, the officiant reminded us that we are more than just witnesses to the covenant made between this bride and groom, but we have a responsibility to lift them up, encourage and support them in this life-long covenant.

I would say the same thing is required of each and every American. Not to just offer partisan support at the polls, but to know our constitution, now how our system of government is designed to work and hold our elected officials accountable to follow the rules, do so with compassion and use their power to fix the injustices so we can form a more perfect union. I would dare to say, listen to the other side of the argument respectfully, encourage sides to compromise into legislation that will not be in peril when the other side gains majority, but that can withstand the test of time because it improves our country and was reached together, so both sides have a hand in it.

I know, this sounds almost fairytale-like, but it doesn’t have to be. Besides, I just went to a beautiful wedding, I can’t help but be optimistic.