by Charlie Leck
A friend wrote to me yesterday about how depressed he’s feeling about our nation. It kind of rocked me because he had been the one of the two of us who kept holding out hope. He still believed in Obama and thought we were going to see real change.
“It’s time to focus in on our own problems,” he wrote, “infrastructure, education and the economy… and we need new leadership… I so thought we were gonna get it with Obama… and it seems like we’re going in circles… it’s so disappointing. Charlie, I’m depressed. We could be such a great nation!”
Everything around me went deadly silent and I could hear my heart thumping. This guy had slashed at the stuff I’ve been writing and contended that Obama was still our hope. I rode on his enthusiasm and optimism. Now he was bailing out! I trembled a bit. I didn’t want to be believed. I didn’t want to be correct. Was I just bleating out a self-fulfilling prophesy?
I felt glum and things around me were stalling out. I sent back a reply.
I didn’t want you to do that. One of us has got to keep the faith – to keep hope alive.
I don’t want you to be disappointed. We could be a great nation! Indeed. Write out for me… just in a jotting fashion… what it would mean to be a great nation… I would like to see what you think on a piece of paper so I can print it out and think about it also and perhaps refine and add to it.
Perhaps we could all buy a place in a rural area in the south of France and go home to civilization… or a spot in eastern Canada would not be so far away… but I like the sound of France better… perhaps outside Avignon… nothing fancy… we’ll learn to speak and read French at last and all 3 of us will wear des berét and walk into town and drink café au lait and eat good French pastries and not worry about du merde. I could do it, my friend. Yes, I could really do it. Anne? Close, but I don’t think she could leave the children behind. I couldn’t do it without her.
If you listen to the alternatives to Obama, my friend, there is no hope – no hope at all that we will ever learn what it means to be a great nation.
Abe Lincoln had it figured out. He had a reconstruction plan and an extraordinary dream. And then some [expletive deleted] went and shot him.
Your email made everything go very quiet here in the house. I can hear and feel my heart thumping.
We should be a great nation, but someone keeps [expletive deleted] it up.
Have you ever been in the south of France, my friend? Oh, my God it is lovely. There is, of course (mais oui) a train straight to Paris. There’s another to Cannes and Nice and the sea. Wouldn’t need a car! Just a lot of bookshelves (and your iPods). The hell with [expletive deleted] computers. We’ll make sure there is a big, spare room for when friends or family wants to visit from the U.S.. We’ll make them pretend they are civilized people from a civilized nation. We’ll dig three holes right away, so that when one of us dies the other two can drag the body and drop it in the hole and then cover it and say “Bon huit, mon ami!”
Tell me what it takes to be a great nation. Why can the French do it and we can not?
It’s too quiet right now. It frightens me that you are losing hope.
What does a great nation look like? To me?
First I’ll say that I cannot separate my present ideas from my childhood memories... and I don't want to. A child's mind is so much cleaner and clearer. It lacks the greed and envy that comes later and corrupts us. America, the way it was to us as kids, never really existed outside of our minds; yet that could be our guide to greatness.
Imagine America as part of a great world. Think of Americans as having pride, not at the expense of the weak, not pride in being the best or strongest nation, but pride in our generosity, our willingness to share, to teach, to experiment for the benefit of our brothers and sisters.
Our borders are our ruination. We've been so busy being better, stronger, wealthier, that we've become poorer, weaker and angrier.
I don't know when it became more important to be an American than a human – when our little part of one continent became more important than our planet – or how we got to be okay with dumping our waste out of sight in the ocean or over the border; behind a wall.
When did it become acceptable to buy our freedom with the lives of the less eloquent, the less powerful? And how did we not notice the cheap cloth we were using for our flag? Or the hollow words we were making our anthem?
Can any nation be great in a hungry world? Can a child grow into a leader of men on a planet where most children lack breakfast, let alone the opportunity to prosper, to invent, to reach out to another?
We've become a nation of the frightened, angry and greedy. We hide in the guise of a religious morality that is a sham. We are people who buy off our guilt with a twenty dollar donation to Haiti or Africa, but won't share the same sidewalk with a stranger after dark.
We need to sacrifice. We need to consume less, to give more, to help more... No, I need to do that... I need to contribute to the life of another human – the way you did fifty years ago in Mississippi.
As a nation, as a people, we've got to give it away. We can't have freedom built on greed. We can't starve the kids because we fear the parents. The wall that separates North and South America is the same wall that imprisons our spirit.
Charlie, we need a guide. We need an epiphany – maybe some spirit will land in a ship from the universe – that will be big and bright enough for us to trust and follow. Jesus reborn isn't gonna’ do it and neither is Moses or Mohammed. They aren’t large enough for modern America and people don’t understand them anyway.
Maybe America needs to lose its freedom and its confidence to relearn humility. 9/11 didn't do that – not yet it didn't. I can't imagine what it would take. I want to think we can change, that we can follow a humanitarian principle or a few simple commandments -- 10?