Monday, May 28, 2012

One Nation...ONE.

This Memorial Day weekend, my friend Nick flew in from Chicago on Saturday for a visit and to celebrate my impending birthday (a significant one involving a ‘0’ and another number). As part of my gift, we (actually he) decided we should take a day trip to Baltimore to visit an old comedian friend who teaches at one of the universities there.

The plan was for Nick and me to meet in Philadelphia since he was staying in King of Prussia, Pa., and I was at my palatial estate somewhere on the Jersey Shore. I would leave my Hyundai in Philly and we would ride together the rest of the way. The weather was perfect and there was little or no holiday traffic to trigger my road rage.

If the sum total of your life’s experience with Philadelphia has consisted of eating cream cheese or watching The Philadelphia Story, you really should consider visiting, particularly if you are an American. From the moment you cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge, you get this great sense of history. Every single street in the historic district has a building, a museum or cemetery that provides a direct link to who we are and how we got here. And on holidays such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, that feeling is even more evident.

After I met up with Nick, we hopped into his rented, Cherry red Ford Focus and bee lined south down I-95. Settled in with the coffee and cinnamon buns we purchased at a local convenience store in Philly, the conversation, as it always does, had already skipped like a stone about three times across Lake Topic by the time we hit Delaware.

“Have you ever been to Gettysburg?” Nick asked.  I shook my head and declared that it was on my bucket list.

“Fifty-thousand dead over two days”, he said. “Imagine that?”

“As many as died in Vietnam”, I replied. “I can’t even imagine that.”

As we wended southward, our discussion covered almost as much ground as we would over the next several hours. Most of the talk was of comedy and comedians, material and nuance, and war stories from the road. Of course, in between topics, we torture and taunt each other mercilessly, but it is all in fun. Between Nick and I, there are limits and we know not to cross them. But God help anyone who disses either of us in the company of the other. That is where our friendship takes over.

The hour and a half car trip flew by as car trips do when the white line silence is filled with laughter and conversation. It was nearly two p.m. by the time we hit the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore. We found Doctor Ron; our old comedy alumnus turned speech pathologist, who had already put in a reservation at the chosen restaurant . In just a few minutes, the waitress paged us and we sat down for a leisurely Sunday afternoon lunch and reunion. I had a soft shell crab salad which was so delicious that I neglected to notice what the others were ordering.

The topics covered over those next two hours were many; comedy, of course being one of the main components. Politics was inevitable as we are all political junkies who never tire of the ridiculousness of our lawmakers’ bellowing, machinations, and inaction. Personally I feel safe that they are all there in Washington, both Democrat and Republican. At least we know where they all are and cannot do any damage to the real world since they can never agree on ANYTHING.          

We are unabashed and unapologetic liberals though, Ron, Nick, and I, so it was only a matter of time before we began a protracted discussion of the errors and prejudices of the Right, which included Ron’s dissertation and theories on the cognitive dissonance of the Tea Party and the Republican Party in general.

During our meal, I received a call from a friend of mine’s son. He lives in Baltimore and called to ask if he could hitch a ride back with us to Jersey to visit his mom. I said sure and we arranged a meeting time right near the aquarium. We three had a couple of  hours to kill and so we strolled around the Inner Harbor, laughed, talked, ate some killer gelato and eventually met up with my friend’s son at the appointed time to begin the journey home.

Hugs and goodbyes were made and we watched Ron disappear back into the world of academia. We were on our way back to the garage when Patrick, my friend’s son turned to the harbor and pointed something out to me.

“Right out there is where Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.” With that, we turned and headed back to the car.

The ride back to Philly was uneventful, though we did get a bit lost. Nick and I parted ways, and Patrick and I headed to the parking garage to recover the Hyundai. Once over the Ben Franklin Bridge and back in Jersey, we stopped at the first 7-11 we could find, got some fresh, hot coffee for the last leg of the trip and headed out to the strains of Django Reinhardt softly filling the darkened car. Patrick didn’t know much about Django, but he loved the music; so I schooled him a little.

During the long ride on a pitch black road, we spoke about anarchy, purpose of life, career choices and art. Patrick is young, sensitive and completely unsure of what he wants to be. Having been there myself at one time, I listened and occasionally offered suggestions. An hour and a half later, I deposited him at his mother’s front door.

Once home, I fired up the computer to catch up on some email and news in the world, only to read this absolutely horrific story about what had happened in Houla, Syria. If you have not by now heard about it, 109 people, including 49 children, many of whom were infants, were slaughtered by what is believed to be ‘President’ Bashar al-Assad’s troops. Their goal? To suppress perceived dissidents who want Assad’s ass out of power and out of Syria.

To suppress perceived dissidents.

You know, it’s funny how sometimes a phrase like that can spark a multitude of other thoughts and lead you to places in your mind that have nearly been covered over in the dust of years of living. But that phrase, coupled with the historical significance of Memorial Day, Philadelphia and Baltimore, got me to thinking about my own country.

We are a nation of dissidents. Our very founding was the result of not being willing to tolerate an oppressive regime. And in the beginning it was the private citizens who formed militias and marched side by side with the Continental troops to defeat that regime. And like those Syrians who dared to stand up against someone so hideous that he would order the slaughter of children, our defenders, then and now, were willing to die to preserve us.

Because they sacrificed, I thought, I can sit here and write whatever I feel in my heart without fear of being imprisoned or killed. I could take that ride to Baltimore, discuss anarchy and art, and speak freely for and against my government. I can vote for my leaders, and know that it won’t be thrown in a wastebasket because it doesn’t favor a despotic, murderous animal like Assad or his thugs. I can make people laugh and tell the truth at the same time with no censoring but my own self-imposed kind. I can do all these things because someone who I have never met and some that have been close to me have felt duty-bound to preserve the ideal of America for all of us. Is it no wonder then that Francis Scott Key, who was being held aboard an enemy ship at the time of his writing the National Anthem, was so moved at the survival of an ideal, his ideal, that he penned those words knowing that four miles away there were dead and wounded Americans at Fort McHenry?

I have been both proud and ashamed of my country at various times in my life. I can’t really remember a time in my life when we weren’t involved in some kind of conflict. Some I have supported, but most I have not.  But I have never ever felt anything but awe at those who willingly chose to put it all on the line for the idea of America. I don’t know that I could. But because they did, we don’t have murderous animals like Assad here, killing citizens who can’t defend themselves. We trust enough in one another, in our armed forces, and yes, even in our sometimes chaotic government to not turn the guns on us.

Some have called us the world’s police force. Sadly, I might have to agree with that statement from time to time. Ours should not be the business of intervention or nation building. Our job, our primary goal should be to show the world that the idea and ideal of America works through a peaceful example. And I think we do that fairly well overall. But when animals like Assad and company kill their own people without regard for their value simply because they give the perception of being a dissident, then it is time to offer help. We did it in Europe during World War II; and in Libya, and a number of other places. We need to do something for these people; and if we do, if it comes down to yet another armed conflict, our defenders will defend them too, without pause and without hesitating.   

My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty....of THEE I sing.

To my fellow Americans who believe that their ultra-conservative, nearly intractable positions aren’t worth the effort of constructive dialogue with those who oppose them ideologically, let me say this.

In Gettysburg and Anzio, Normandy, Viet Nam , Korea, Okinawa, Guam and Pearl Harbor and hundreds of other places lie the remains of those who have died for my right be and speak, opinionate and live my life in the best way I know how. Here in my home, there are those whose lives will never be the same because of an instant in time. They didn’t ask my religion, my race, my sexual preference, or my gender identity. They didn’t care if I was a Republican or Democrat; the only criteria for their willingness to die for me was that I was an American, and when I felt it was necessary, a dissident American.

Here is where religion is separated from government. Here, you can be different. Here is where we have all brought our cultures from our ancestral homelands. They may seem strange to some of you, but it is our right to have them, and to add them to the tapestry of this sweet land of liberty. And though you may not be killing innocents in the streets, when you plot and plan to take our rights away, you are as guilty as Assad’s minions. You are committing a traitorous act when you do those things and you shame the souls who have died for us. Sure you have the right to try to manipulate the system to favor you and your kind, but you will not win because too many of us value what Francis Key saw that morning in the Inner Harbor... the survival of liberty as it exists nowhere else in the world.  

I am a proud American. I have seen a lot in the time I’ve been on this earth, some of it magnificent and wonderful and other times ugly, profane and heartbreaking. But I always view it through American eyes; that is to say my opinions and feelings are colored by a combination of my innate ethnic heritage imprinted on my DNA, and the American experiences of my not-so-distant immigrant past. I believe in the idea and ideal of my country and I thank the people who have defended that ideal on today, their day. Because of them I was able to sit on the steps in a mall at the Inner Harbor and speak freely with friends. Their sacrifice is the reason I am able to reach out to you today in this blog.  And if you don’t appreciate that the preservation of that right alone isn’t enough to die for, then you have become complacent and taken liberty for granted.   

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat and everybody thank a service person along with their higher power for having the good fortune to be an American. Abbondanza!  


  1. This couldn't have been said more eloquently, Julia, and I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you.

  2. Wow, just when I think I've read your best, you come up with another one even better. I'm shaken with emotion after reading this, deep and heartfelt. This was truly outstanding, eloquent & powerfully written.