Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Because I Am An American

A meme on social media asked me if I remembered where I was on 28 January 1986 -- the day of The Challenger catastrophe.  Yes, yes I do.  I spent an hour gaping at a television over the bar at Sundance's at 12th and Cherry, a few blocks from the courthouse at which I worked as a prosecutor.  No one spoke.  Drinks were on the house.  Every man and woman in the place loosened their ties, shed their jackets, slumped over their drinks, and watched the horrifying news of the death of Christa McAuliffe and her companions.

I also vividly recall where I learned of John F. Kennedy's assassination on 22 November 1963.  My third grade teacher, Mother Rosamund, hauled a heavy stand into the classroom, plugged in the black-and-white television, and admonished us to sit still  We folded our sweaty eight-year-old hands and shivered as we watched the stunning news of our President's murder.  I don't know what reporter thought to film Jackie Kennedy with her blood-stained suit, but the image still haunts me.

Another sight which haunts me:  15 September 1963, the day four girls lost their lives in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.  Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14 years old; and 11-year-old Denise McNair.  I sat with my family with the news reels blaring.  My mother sobbed.  My father shook his head.  My little brothers cried although I do not know if they understood what had taken place.

I remember the pivotal times in our history because I am an American.  We find meaning in the inter-connectedness of our entire republic, each man, woman, boy, and girl.  From the most mundane moment, to the most spectacular, events resonate from San Francisco  to Manhattan.  What happens in our country captures our attention not because we luxuriate in the macabre or in the pain of others, but because their pain becomes our pain.  We stagger backwards with the splatter of flying shrapnel, the jerk of each blast, the pounding of each wave.  What happens to our brothers and sisters happens to us.

At least, that is how I view things.  I realize that my view might seem naive to some.  I got into a car with a friend yesterday and said, "How about that Sally Yates, isn't she awesome?  My hero!"  My friend replied, "Well, she's not mine -- how dare she defy the President!"  She and I graduated from the same law school.  We practice the same type of law.  We're close in age and both of us were raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  But we see the deputy attorney general's decision not to enforce Trump's ban on persons from certain countries crossing our borders from different perspectives.   I see the decision of Sally Yates as a righteous defense of law and morality while my friend considers it to be mere insubordination.

 I  let the subject drop at the time, but remember it now with less chagrin than I felt in the moment.  Now, I realize that she has her opinion and I have mine, and I can accept that.

Because I am an American.

But then I scroll again through the internet, looking for just the right passage to help me make sense of our current political climate.  I skip past the references to George Orwell's 1984.  I skim the paragraphs which I've re-read in the last months, including It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis.  I briefly pause to re-read a sentence from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the chilling account of an ordinary day for a political prisoner in one of Stalin's grim camps, written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Finally, I pause on the one piece of writing which encapsulates everything about America that underscores my endless love for my country, and my endless fear for my country as we stand on the brink of a new and frightening divide.  This one passage --  eternal, immutable, bold, and noble, states the case for every protest being held; for every march, on every street, in every courthouse corridor, on every public square.   I quote it for you now -- and I commend it to you as a road map for your unfaltering steps from where you live to Washington, D.C., whether those steps be taken in your car, by plane, or at the keyboard of your computer to be sent eastward on virtual wings.

 I comment this everlasting proclamation to you because I am an American.

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