There are rules to being American, probably more than most folks care to recognize, mainly because they are mostly unwritten. I do not refer to the United States Constitution in this concept; rather, I refer to things somewhat nebulous, such as trying to shape Jello into a ball. One cannot squeeze the generic American into a ball either, the reasons being vast. Well, perhaps half vast would be closer to a truth, as none of us are perfect, and most of us are not fit to serve as role models anyway. The traits that I seem most often to attach to being the perfect American must exhibit the qualities I will offer, but perhaps not in this as the only order of descent or ascent either from one to ten, or ten to one.
I shall merely enlarge my premise by enumerating the first trait: American born; that is, the person is born within the boundaries of America, to an American mom and dad. A person who is fortunate enough to fit easily into the scene will likely live in a modest home, perhaps with one or two siblings and a pet or two. He or she will live comfortably but not richly, or ‘high on the hog’ as my elders used to say. Often there was neither a high place nor a hog to begin with, but there were fish in the lake and wild turkeys in the trees, so we ate well, but we were all Americans of that cultural level: the working man.
Second or next, is numbers don’t matter, might come simple believers in a Creator God. There was no fancy cathedral, and at times no pastor, merely a retired older man whose title was likely to be ‘circuit rider’ who would be at a different church each Sunday in what some would call a godless wilderness, in the West Texas oilfield. There really is not much Grand Canyon level scenery out there, but there was a company house, a paycheck every two weeks, and we were in America, not a real godless wasteland. (Those circuit riders could eat more fried chicken than any cousin of kinfolk who happened by!)Schools were available, and we played sports, we had good teachers, and World War II, Korea, and DienBien Phu came and went in their turns. Our male teachers went to war, and at least the war was not on American soil, so we were still sort of united as Americans, from sea to shining sea. And time passed.
The third phase of defining America came after the French bolted from Viet Nam and DienBienPhu was ours, and the change began to separate, not unite, Americans as the newly named hippies and a LSD guru/college professor Timothy Leery began to rise up. Suddenly ‘if it feels good, do it’ was being shouted as the fog of various new smoking products filled the air. Too, the Viet Nam war seemed to turn everyone against everyone else. Oddly enough, some of those who went to and returned from those battlefields were not cheered as heroes of the wars as in the past. Perhaps then, with the advantage of a mental rearview mirror, that there appeared the signs that there were now two Americas: one for the Patriot, one for the Protester, and a gulf between the two was widening.
Impossible, not gonna happen. This is America, land of the free, home of the brave! We are the world. And maybe there was when phase four eased into the tent with a limb or two of the camel. Is this the America that we now find somehow not quite right? Is it the America that is dangling over a vast emptiness that has no name, but it is a place we have not been, in my lifetime, in spite of the Viet Nam era’s darkness, our nation put their nation back on its feet. In spite of the way in which our returning warriors were treated, there were reasons to take pride in the freedoms that were established there in a war torn land. In fact, two of the returning veterans, representing both sides of our struggles in that war, serve in high elected offices in government at this moment, and one of them will likely be Secretary of State soon.
I am not happy in phase four, as it feels wrong to me, not because I am old and tired but because our nation is. America is tired of having its children constantly at each other’s throats, thumbs tightening hard on pressure points each wanting to shut the other down. There is little or no common ground to retreat to, Americans both, but Patriots and Protesters who cannot occupy the same piece of land. Perhaps this is Phase 4.1, the pivotal point at which there must be a way to mutual ground, or we wind up much like the dog with the bone. Do you recall that fable? The dog, crossing the creek on a log looks down and sees his image mirrored in the water. The other bone looks so much bigger and juicer than the one he has that he lets go of his bone to snap up the one in the water. He sees his bone disappear as he realizes that his jaws have closed on nothing but water. Is that where our leaders have us now, stranded and hungry over troubled water?