I remember America. I remember when you could trust people. Nobody locked their doors. Car keys were left in ignitions. There weren’t many police or the need for them. Lakes and rivers were clean. The doctor came to your house when you were sick, and your weren’t prescribed pills unless you needed them.
I remember reciting The Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day, and I thought a lot about being a good American. I heard about people less fortunate than I was, and though I didn’t know any, I wanted to help them. That was the American way, everybody helping everybody else get ahead. I loved myself, and I loved America. We were both doing the right thing. My American dream was to make us all better off, to leave no one behind.
I spent the early 60’s commercial fishing in Nicaragua. My American citizenship garnered trust and respect. In fact, cash strapped, I walked into a Chinese merchant and borrowed $500. He told me that my citizenship indicated my trustworthiness. Two weeks later I repaid the loan. I thought about how lucky I was to belong to a country with such a good reputation, and what an awesome responsibility I was saddled with, to uphold it.
When I arrived in Nicaragua I was a smug 22 year-old who was going to teach these impoverished people “American ways.” I was the one who got the education. I found the people proud, smart, loyal and creative. Though many had almost no formal education, I met some who could read, write and speak several languages, and many knew much more about world geography than I did. There was one thing that I did not appreciate, however. If I left any possession uncared for it would disappear. Thievery I thought. I found out that some of the thieves thought of me as abusing the resources that I was entrusted with, by God. After stewing for a few years, I believe they were right. What would have long since been in my trash can, they are probably still using, and they probably thought of me as being irresponsible. I was.
In 1966 I returned to a different America. A president had been killed, and the American family, that I was so proud of, was bickering. The “me generation,” emerged wanting to get their freedom, now, and at whatever the cost. Huge numbers of disenchanted, depressed youth were using self inflicted injury, and drugs to hide their mental pain.
I became a schoolteacher, and over a 26 year tenure I watched my school change from a friendly place that proudly graduated all of their students and supported their teachers, to a place that graduated half of their students in an environment hostile to teachers and the school.
In 2011 the doctor, who used to make house calls, works for a corporation that is more interested in making me poor than making me well. I have had two cars stolen, and my house broken into. Children no longer say the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and they don’t know where to find their salvation. It comes, not from their making more money and getting more stuff, but from lifting their fellow Americans from the very sludge we have created for them.
The “American Dream,” that is repeatedly portrayed on television is a nightmare. The dreamer gets rich without helping anyone, a pompous fool, flaunting riches while standing on the backs of his ailing parents, and his neglected children. The dreamer fiddles while the American family burns. That aristocracy is not what I dream about.
For me the “American Dream,” includes the whole American Family. Americans don’t throw out family members to get rich. Yes, those kids are expensive, and Aunt Molly is nuts, but we take care of each other, and they, us. America is like that, A family. If we take care of our American family we will love ourselves, so will everyone else. America doesn’t stop at our borders it has spread seeds of trust around the world. In my dream those seeds grow into a thick green forest of humanity, each tree is magnificent, because its brothers and sisters are.