I remember a time when being a young American Girl allowed me to believe.
I believed in the idea of reverence for Heroes, Olympians, Religions, Movie Stars, Political Parties, Presidents, First Ladies, the Media, Teachers, Police Officers and even just my Elders. In school, we celebrated Washington, Lincoln, King and Columbus with holidays, plays and homework worksheets hot off the Mimeograph machine. We honored them, admiring what they had done well, instead of picking apart that which may not have been so great. Revering not so much the individuals, we placed value on what they represented. We respected authority, our nation, its beginnings and stood willingly awestruck by things so much bigger than the sum of their parts. We placed esteem because we needed to. It gave us something to believe in and it was awesome to believe, instead of standing armed with poison pen to pick apart the legitimacy of those beliefs.
I remember reading a biography on Abraham Lincoln many years after making crafts with cotton and black crepe paper for the class bulletin board and thinking, “Wait, he sometimes failed too? He had flaws? He had haters? Good ole Honest Abe was imperfect, wait, what?” I was so happy not to have known any of Mr. Lincoln’s limitations (or anyone else I revered) when I was young because it gave me time to hope and dream about what America offered to me. I needed to believe in all my heroes, in what each stood for and to this day, I am glad that too much information did not get in the way of those beliefs.
As a little girl, I stood proud with hand on heart when my class pledged allegiance to the American flag. Doing so was not open for discussion and I learned to respect the teacher who held us accountable. Along with my classmates, I recited poems about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and wondered not only how the earth could possibly be round, how anyone could be brave enough to set sail in order to find out. At least back then, we wondered. I liked imagining what it was like for explorers to set out and find spices and places to call home some new day in a faraway place. It seemed back then, that talking about discovery was much more important than being politically correct about the discoverer.
As for Columbus and his men and the fact that some cities now refuse to celebrate him anymore, I am not saying that all they likely did upon arrival (even if that arrival was by default) in already inhabited land would have been things to revere. I am saying however, that as a young child having a chance to do so, allowed me to believe in the idea of discovery. That belief mattered. Was it really so terrible, those of you who insist on banning Columbus Day, to allow children to believe in a story of “sailing the ocean blue in 1492?” Did it really have to become an ethnic battle cry? Can you not see that the simplicity of the belief back when, served to help some of us dream of exploration of our own some day?
Regarding trophies and grades, the way it worked was this: we played games resulting in a winner and loser; some kids got trophies and some did not (I was one of the “did-nots”), but no matter what, we learned about perseverance, disappointment and sportsmanship. We experienced the feeling of victory and yes, the agony of defeat, but within each we were compelled to stand still in emotion. We got A’s when we worked hard and D’s when not so much and we felt joy and disappointment depending. Does that even happen anymore? Does anyone have to feel disappointment? Do our children even have to stop long enough to feel? I read that some colleges cancelled class and allowed students to bring pets to the dorms to help them process unhappiness during this past presidential election. Seriously?? Today, our nation focuses so much on making sure that everyone is comfortable and everybody wins that we seem to have lost sight of the value that discomfort and even losing have in forming our individual dignity and strength. This refusal to stand still in emotions anymore within our schools, our sports, our games, our elections, our country, this avoidance of discomfort in such an enormous way in our society, makes me so very uncomfortable.
Maybe that is why so many potential young discovers these days seek their high from drugs. They set out for the instant gratification, dopamine buzz from a substance instead of the long-term one that comes from setting out and trying and even sometimes failing, from an origin of purpose. Perhaps many of our young Americans today are just going with what they are learning, to cop out and make excuses instead of feeling. Or, maybe they feel blocked from seeking new heights because they are afraid of the judgment fishbowl they will likely have to swim in after they achieve them, the one in which every move, every thought and every comment will be picked apart by society and the media. Perhaps it is because no one is teaching our young people anymore that life is not about being always comfortable or always understood or always right. It is about striving along the way.
I remember the notion that I could safely strive for greatness someday; it gave me something to hold onto back when; I was in awe of athletes, strong, able and excellent competitors and loved watching the Olympics and being proud of another medal for my country. There was a sense of awe, of connection, of belonging to something so much greater, something that I may be able to try to know or find someday. I am glad I was naively unaware of which athlete drank too much or smoked pot or took steroids on their down time.
With our celebrations, our explorers, our Presidents, our heroes, there was a spirit of hope. I loved being a little American girl. I loved not knowing as much as I know now about each one of the individuals that helped me believe in their greatness. I am grateful to understand how flawed I have been myself in getting to any measure of accomplishment achieved in my own life; and am so very thankful to understand that we are each so utterly human. It saddens me that so many refuse to allow others the right to their humanness, with all that being human entails.
Back as a girl in school, although I did not really like all the rules, I understood them. Being accountable helped sure up the foundation under my feet. I loved that a teacher could still give a hug if I scraped my knee. I treasured, yet dreaded the excitement of getting a test back after studying hard for it and when the paper was void of a gold star, I valued the sense of effort from having to work harder next time.
I loved Christmas being Christmas and Hanukkah being Hanukkah and the fact that we did not have to watch out for offending anyone when we wished them Happy or Merry. Thank goodness, the news was not on round the clock and that we were not privy to every sideways sneeze someone famous made. I loved being a little American girl when I was one and I pray for those who are growing up now in this world that seems so afraid of grades and awards and hugs and mistakes.
I realize that today, I get to choose to love being a grown American woman and that is the choice I proudly make, although it is not always easy when I watch what goes on out there in America land. I must choose not to grab hold of the ugliness thrown out as bogus factoid grenades each minute of every day and remember how nice it was not to know what I didn’t’ know when I was little; how awesome it was to still believe in people, in their greatness. Each morning I commit to remind myself that I, that we, are flawed humans striving to do better and that yesterday I was not nearly as far as I am today so maybe you weren’t either. Things I said or did in my past, especially thirty years ago, are laughable because I am no longer that woman who spoke without always meaning what she said and I must ignore the media asking me to judge the latest person up for slaughter this week for what they said during their own back when. I am aware that I have made heartfelt mistakes and stand grateful in the knowledge that if my every quote, deed or action through life had been under a microscope the way our coaches, teachers and politicians’ are, I would likely be very lonely. For I have said, done and even thought things that would not bode well in the public eye or even within my inner circle.
Why are we so afraid? Why are we scared of mistakes made along the road to excellence? Why do we focus so much on ugliness and errors? Why do reporters so willingly tout what is bad instead of what is amazing about a person? Why do we the public pay so much attention? Why are we so terrified to give our children A’s and D’s when they deserve either as grades and why, oh why, don’t we understand that getting a D just may inspire someone to work harder next time for the A? Why do we think that everyone should get a trophy, whether for first place or last? What is happening here? Why are so many so quick to smile at or “Facebook like” things that are unkind and result in others undoing? Why do picketing and rioting get airtime, so very much airtime, when both incite confusion and violence? What happened to grace? Why does everyone have to argue about everything? Why are folks so fearful of healthy competition and why are some so intent on slander?
I wish, I hope, I pray, I dream that there are a few others out there that remember a time when we were naive enough to believe; a time when what we didn’t know allowed us all to grow. A time when you did not have to be afraid of picking plain milk over chocolate in the cafeteria, for fear someone might misunderstand and when you could bring a peanut butter sandwich without having to sit alone at a lunchroom table or even a boardroom one. I wonder if please, please, please we could stop going over the top to make sure everyone’s rights are being valued, because it seems like in doing so, we are getting lost and blowing others rights to kingdom come.
I wish we would start by opening our heart to honoring one another more simply and not taking anyone apart piece by piece to prove they were not or are not worthy of making the difference they tried to make or are still trying to make. Forgive them, those in the past, those in the present and one another for being human and move forward in that humanness so that we can all find love and respect along the way. God Bless all the American girls, boys, men and women who, like me, are grateful for the seekers and the finders, the settlers and the pioneers. God Bless the Indians and the cowboys, the military and the peacemakers, and PLEASE Dear God, help us find some balance. Thank goodness the earth is round so we can’t fall off the end of it, or worse yet jump. Wait, are we sure it is round? Who knows what the next explorers, pioneers and politicians will find out, if only they remain brave enough to set out and try; if only they remain unafraid of failing or being judged long after finding whatever they may find.