Among the scores of responses that come each week, occasionally there is one which is so plaintive I cannot simply answer it and go on. Here is a response from a slightly younger colleague in Minnesota.
“The American dream is more than getting rich. It’s more than having power. It’s more than being in Congress or occupying the Oval Office. The American dream I still have is about being a people together. It’s about being glad you live in the neighborhood you live in, glad your children play with the children they play with, glad you can trust most elected leaders to do what is best for everyone and not just a few. It’s about walking arm in arm to support the dream that some day all people of color will be judged by the content of their character above everything else. I believe in the American dream our founders envisioned, our soldiers have fought for, and too many of them, along with great leaders like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr., have died for.
At the moment my belief in this version of the American dream has been shaken. In fact, it has taken an old fashion shellacking. The life has almost been taken right out of it. It seems like political leaders today and the people who voted for them don’t share the vision of America I have had all my life. It seems as if they think it is okay for some people to have so much money they have to think up ways to spend it, while 25 million of their fellow Americans either don’t have a job or don’t have a job that pays them enough or fully utilizes their marvelous education and skills. I admit to being confused, maybe even dumbfounded, at the apathy and even callousness so many Americans have about economic justice. I think I am even more confused and dumbfounded by the sheer nonsense of the political rhetoric that is accepted by the news media as being worthy to report.
My version of the American dream needs inspiration once in a while, something like a John Kennedy challenge to ask what I can do for my country rather than what it can do for me, or a Martin Luther King inviting me to share a dream that can lift the lives of everyone. It needs the inspiration of caregivers who treat my beloved aunt like a human being as she lies mostly unconscious of her surroundings. It needs the tears generated by the whimper of a starving baby being held in the arms of a U.N. relief worker in Somalia, and the knowledge that our great nation is trying to save others from the same fate.
So I live in hope that someone will emerge who through actions as well as words will inspire all of us to regain a vision of 'one nation, under God, indivisible.' It seems words come easy to us these days, but later ring hollow when they are found wanting of fairness or commitment to the common good. Yet I still believe the American dream I have is a great one, one that I cherish and am willing to work for so my children and grandchildren will also benefit from it. But I honestly don’t know if it will survive.
Ramblings from an old warrior.”
That pretty well sums up the way I feel much of the time. But then I turn to the possibility that the American people will lift their heads high enough to see that this isn’t the way it needs to be and will get to work in a hundred ways to change both the political and the social dynamics. America is better than that. Much better, and it is our job to point a way to that nobler image.