As a child growing up in historic Concord, Massachusetts, a town where you could hardly walk a mile without stumbling over some historic monument to freedom and justice, I pretty much bought the high American dream wholesale. According to the local mythos, our beautiful country was founded by high dreamers indeed, noble minded people who deeply valued liberty and justice for all. As a young visitor to New York City, I remember reading this stirring poem (written by Emma Lazarus in 1883) on the base of the Statue of Liberty and feeling a thrill of tearful pride:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Yes! My country was certainly one to be proud of! As the Sixties rolled and the Civil Rights movement rocked our world, it seemed thrilling again to be part, however, tiny, of that great national willingness to be a better people. Social justice, economic justice, equality, freedom, education, human rights; all woke an enormous YES in my young self. YES, I want to be a part of making this country, this world a fairer, safer, and happier world for all. Liberty and justice for all, right? Right? YES!
What Can We DO?
It’s still there, that YES of mine. However, so many more of our filters are being stripped away now that it can be hard to know what to hang on to. Native American rights come into play as we recognize the inhumane and unjust way our forefathers ripped away their lands. So many of our national leaders clearly thought that genocide might be just the ticket for getting rid of these pesky people so the white could prevail. How did we the people not notice this most basic injustice? How can we ignore the way injustice and cruel inhumanity are still in play, with the First People of this land, with people of color, with poor folks, with immigrants who seek shelter here? Oh, and let’s consider the lot of women and children in general, whose rights are still abused with horrifying frequency as well. What about animals? What about the land? Earth itself?
What can we do indeed? I only wish I knew. On one hand, we can try to exercise our rights as citizens and require our elected officials to act in our names and according to our will: Abolish ICE! Set the captive immigrant families free! Reunite those families and make reparation! Get the unfairly imprisoned out of jail-for-profit institutions and help them find their feet. Stop the increasing ecological abuses of all kinds! Stop NOW! We can call and call and call again and we must, for only by letting our representatives hear from us daily, over and over and over, can we expect them to act in our interests, not corporate interests. And we can all be kind, generous, quick to offer a hand when a need is made known. Stress can make us crabby, that’s for damn sure, but let’s make a pact to stay kind and as clear about what we DO want as what we DON”T.
A High Dream
Here’s what I want, with all by heart: I want to live in a peaceful world where millions of people are constructively busy, making and mending, repairing old wrongs, restoring old damage. I want to be part of a culture that prizes kindness and creativity over acquisition. I want to live in a country where immigrants are actively welcome and where there’s no need for a War on Poverty because nobody goes unhoused, unfed, uneducated or without medical care.
I used to think that the pursuit of happiness was shallow and frivolous. The older I get, the greater the value I see in happiness for everyone. For one thing, happy people don’t covet other people’s land. Happy people don’t need to fill an inner black hole with stuff. Happy people don’t create hierarchies or play win-lose games with people, places, or things. Happy people don’t make war, don’t steal (legally or otherwise), don’t develop addictions. As the Buddha famously pointed out, happy people don’t need anything and they like to help. So now, I’m trying my best to be a happy person. After spending several years purging several homes of accumulated things, I am very clear about the not needing anything part. And I find that I really do like to help, whenever I can. Won’t you join me?
Feeding Family And Friends
It’s not easy to celebrate America in these dark and doubtful days, but I find that I can cheerfully celebrate that high dream and people everywhere who share it. Here’s a sparkly little salad that lifts my spirits every day all summer. It’s particularly good with crisp tortilla chips or stuffed into a pita with grilled fish.
Zingy Tomato Salad
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (use several kinds)
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off
1 cup chopped sweet peppers (use several kinds)
1/2 cup chopped red or sweet onion
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro OR parsley
1 lime, cut in wedges
In a serving bowl, whisk oil, vinegar and salt together and adjust to taste. Toss gently with remaining ingredients except lime wedges and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 6-8.