Refining Fire

I realize now that the America I used to believe in was in some ways a figment of my imagination. This is what can happen as you get older and are given occasional peeks behind the curtain. Still, there was something upright and pure about my once-upon-a-time America. I was proud of it, thought it could do no wrong. Heck, fifty-one years ago today Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon. Then walked on it! That was a heady time, something to celebrate after a rough 1968.

Back then, I pledged allegiance without reservation. I viewed the flag as a powerful symbol of freedom. But equality had never been something I gave much thought to. I didn’t spend a lot of time pondering the reality that other Americans didn’t really feel like they were Americans, didn’t feel welcomed or that they belonged here. They saw the flag differently. They saw the moon landing effort differently. They saw, and see, many things differently.

Nation building, it turns out, is more complicated and less virtuous than the version we we’ve been fed in our history books. It is a ruthless, dirty business. Someone is always getting caught in the bulldozer treads.

The flag means less to me now than it once did. I’m not proud of this “exceptional” country the way I once was. I’m angry with it, sad for it, wondering if it will survive much longer. Wondering if it can emerge from the current darkness and confusion.

In the back of my mind, words like “resilience” and “hopefulness” still rattle around. And these are what we need now, in the throes of a pandemic, in the midst of unrest and increasingly acute economic hardship, and with the likes of Donald Trump running the show and poisoning everything.

If we get the opportunity to look back on these days, I hope we can see them as catharsis, as revelation, as the moment when we as a nation looked in the mirror and finally didn’t like what we saw.  

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