New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. – Lao Tzu
Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. – Henry Ford
So happy just to be alive/ Underneath the sky of blue/ On this new morning –Bob Dylan
Each generation faces challenges. For my parent’s generation there were quite a few. They were born into a World War, grew up in the Great Depression and just as they became of age they were handed the responsibility of fighting a second World War. No sooner had that ended than a war over the Korean Peninsula began. Their children soon found themselves hiding under their school desks in endless preparations for an eventual atomic disaster courtesy of a Cold War. When those same children became of age they too were asked to engage in an incoherent conflict, this time in Southeast Asia, where reports of carnage came replete with TV dinners. The generational schisms scarred an entire nation as competing notions of what defined “patriotism” were too often at logger heads. Three national inspirational figures were assassinated over a five-year period. Two of them brothers. Soon after we managed to put men on the moon but too many women still could not get out of the kitchen. For millions of others opportunity for decent employment and housing was shamefully lacking due to the legacy of a peculiar institution whose roots were much deeper than many of their fellow lighter skinned citizens allowed themselves to believe.
An American president left office in disgrace and his successor declared that “our long national nightmare is over” even as he pardoned the crimes of his former boss. There was an oil crisis, an economic crisis, as well as the typical crisis’s across the fronts of culture, race, misogyny, and anti-Semitism just to name a few. Yet in time things at least seemed to be getting better. At least a semblance of decency appeared to embrace the Oval again and the footage of young Americans coming home in flag draped coffins had ceased being a feature of the nightly news.
Fifty-two Americans employed at one of our diplomatic houses were taken hostage for 444 days. The nation held its breath awaiting their eventual release while simultaneously observing its power wither in that part of the world. Not long after that a blood borne virus pounced on us and since it appeared, at least at first, to be an affliction residing chiefly with homosexual men, the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at that time didn’t feel it was appropriate to even utter the words Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or it’s much easier to digest acronym AIDS. So the body count and the infection rate skyrocketed as did good old fashioned American fear and loathing of what we do not understand. This soon became reflected in the nation’s reported number of hate crimes against a segment of the population already overburdened with often violent discrimination. Transmission of this viral beast could also happen through blood transfusions and the exchange of needles through IV drug use, but for too many and for too long it remained a “gay” disease in the public consciousness. Shepherding the country through all this was a young doctor named Fauci who found himself under frequent attack on too many sides for the crime of trying to do his job of protecting the public health in a moment when our enemy was new, invisible, and not yet understood. Funny how some things never change.
In time the new enemy was more than visible and its attacks upon us were both foreign and domestic. In Oklahoma City two supposed “survivalists” murdered 168 innocent individuals, many of them children, in the bombing of a federal building. Just a few years later two disturbed teens in Colorado decided they could avenge their troubles by planning an assault on their classmates. They were horrifically successful, leaving thirteen bodies in the wake of their rampage not including their own suicides. Within two years the poison of domestic terrorism was joined by its cousin of the foreign variety when four planes piloted by hate crashed into two buildings in a populated section of my city, as well as the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and a field in rural Pennsylvania. This last one, headed for the much more populated area of Washington, DC was brought down by the brave actions of the on-board passengers saving the lives of potentially many more in the process, while ultimately sacrificing their own.
In time, the essential burden of responsibility for all of this shifted from my parent’s generation to mine and as well now also, to the generation of young adults now raising their families. Ultimately that shift will continue as it must, to their children and my generation’s grandchildren. And in this time of viral and cultural contagion how we respond will be our ever-lasting legacy.
Will we be the nation that answered the call to action in the sometimes flawed but ultimately noble manner past generations have? The violent despicable enslavement of human beings was ultimately ended by another war and a president, but it should not be lost on us that the original Emancipation Proclamation decreed by this same president was only applied to the states seeking separation and not to the whole of the nation. It was only the successful completion of the war which resulted in a more complete fulfillment of emancipation. We also should never forget that the end of slavery ultimately begat the disgusting conditions of the era of one Mr. James Crow. Still, many of that generation died to preserve, protect, and defend this union and to advance at least in their moment, the prospect that government of the people, by the people and for the people would not perish from the earth.
The rage of human genocide was halted by a generation sold on the notion that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. Political bantering brought us too late to the proceedings and it was only until we ourselves were attacked did we join, by which time too many had already been obliterated for the crimes of being who they were and worshipping in the way they did. But join the proceedings we did, and 405,000 Americans gave their lives in the service of a country dedicated to securing the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves or our posterity but for many others across the oceans . In our rush to form a more perfect union in those times we ironically and shamefully, in the name of freedom, interned 120,000 of our own citizens for the crime of descending (often by generations) from the homeland of our enemy of the moment. And in order to end that conflict the world was introduced to a new, devastating technology which left close to a quarter of a million people dead over the course of just three days and whose shadow of annihilation has been with us ever since.
After that war it appeared that happy days were here again, the skies were blue, and the sun seemed to shine all the time camouflaging our societal blemishes. Still, it is worth noting that a Republican president opened the doors to educational desegregation by enforcing a court order, using the powers of his presidency to order federal troops to escort black students to school in Little Rock, Ark. I imagine that same Republican president might today be considered anathema to his party. A new national highway system availed Americans of opportunities for travel across the great expanse of the nation. The economy grew due to an effective tax rate that assured that businesses as well as workers all thrived. Americans had previously shared much sacrifice, now they were prepared to share in prosperity.
While today a government peopled with political syncophants cannot even reconcile an agreement to pull their constituents through the greatest threat to our national health and survival in one hundred years, we would do well to recall that once when a great depression uprooted our old sense of the possibilities of government that government ignited an American renewal for those times, by using its collective powers to put people back to work, reenergize a dilapidated economy and restore the dignity of an entire nation.
It is fitting that now, during a season when the ancient pagans celebrated the solstice and the eventuality of more sunshine and the growth of crops to nourish us, and as we celebrate harmoniously together the birth of a child, a miracle of light, and many other dedications of spiritual endowment, that opportunities for another national renewal awaits us.
It should not be lost on us that the same young doctor who guided us through AIDS and a multitude of other threats remains with us today at the front lines of this Covid battle, and that is something for which we can be collectively grateful.
A vaccine has already begun to flow and although upwards of 300,000 Americans have already lost their lives and 16.2 million have been infected largely through the mismanagement and messaging of an administration concerned only, even now with its own survival and profit, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for renewal. Even as armed citizens patrol the streets for venal causes that have nothing to do with the national health or freedom but rather the propagation of a notion that the peaceful and lawful transfer of power has become meaningless, the fact remains that our electoral system, flawed as it is, held together and produced in fact the safest and most well attended election in our history. We should be heartened that enough integrity and courage remained in the hearts and souls of election officials and jurists to ultimately decide that facts, and not opinion devoid of evidence, will continue to lead us to decisions of great consequence. This new vaccine will continue to be administered, there will be a new president as of January 20th, 2021 at noon and there will be renewal for the United States of America. How we embrace it, as always, is up to us.