Recently, in order to stop singing the blues
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Recently, in order to stop singing the blues – likely the result of elections and too many news broadcasts – I began watching old videos on YouTube. The videos were mostly from the 1980’s and early 90’s, years of my childhood, consisting of mementos of memorable Christmas sitcoms, Bob Hope Christmas Specials, and a myriad of Christmases in Washington, all seemingly appropriate as Christmas trees pop up all over social media. In watching, I was struck by how simple life was and in the not so distant past. The historian in me knows what was going on in the world and that there was conflict, political and otherwise, yet we did not seem to let it so severely impact and divide us. It felt like America. The United States was still united. Americans still believed in America as priority ‘numero uno.’ Patriotism ran through their veins.
The more I watched, the more I began to feel a touch of nostalgia pull at my heartstrings, and I wondered as Bob Hope talked to the 1985 Rose Bowl Queen if, all these years later, either would believe the controversy of an “America First” ideology; policies that still haunts election cycles, not unlike the midterms we’ve just encountered, where the importance of launching slanderous verbal grenades replaced the importance of policy and platform and, yes, even service.
During those years encompassed on YouTube, the performers at the National Building Museum, in Washington, did not seem so much to make expressions of whether they agreed, or disagreed, with Presidents Reagan or Bush, and, surely, many did not. The honor was that they had been asked to perform for the President and First Lady, in the days when the office still commanded respect and admiration.
In watching, it felt particularly personal. Such a perspective on service always reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who moved in and out of political circles. Very much a product of “the Greatest Generation,” he always said, full of the patriotism that breathed inside his contemporaries, that when you’re asked to serve, you serve, sans political ties, blind to the politics of the one who asked. That is, I believe, genuine service, and a set of beliefs that deeply impacted me. It was (and should be) an honor to be of service to something greater than yourself.
That belief was still alive on YouTube, though those decades old performances felt far removed from where America sits today, where performers, blinded by their own politics, embrace a culture of disrespect and refuse to perform, and even farther removed from recent election cycles, where discourtesy seems more the national past time than baseball. We can do better.
It seems so simple to get back to simplicity. Simple gestures are not hard to make, even when we’ve seemingly fallen so far. Maybe, as is oft-said, we’ve gotten too far away from our religious foundations, or maybe we’ve been seemingly programmed to view our neighbor, not as a friend, but as our enemy. Simply look at social media for proof, both in the individual posts and the administrative decisions being made in Silicon Valley, and look, too, at the 24-hour news broadcasts. Division, it seems, is a business.
Proverbs tells us that a brother is born of adversity. Let’s hope that America can, then, rise like a Phoenix from the ashes with humility and humanity, and let these years of adversity become proof that we can, once more, find the simple. That we can, once more, be friends. That we can, once more, find respect and let it unite us.