The economic crash of 2008 hit my small rural community pretty hard. By the Spring of 2009, our neighborhood held as many empty homes as full ones. As the summer came on, even more homes were foreclosed on or simply abandoned.
The woods behind our house began to seem wilder as the humans moved away, and there were entire days when I never heard a sound other than the calling of jays and the hammering of woodpeckers.
During those bleak months, I used to walk my dogs around the block, passing one empty house after another. Sometimes I’d look at the plants growing along the roadside, or at the ducks in the pond across the street, and I’d let my mind wander.
“What if something really terrible happened to the world, and hardly anyone was left?” I’d think. “Could I manage to feed my family with dandelion greens and fiddleheads? Could we learn how to trap birds, or kill ducks or turkeys for food?”
I always had a slightly romantic view of how things would be, of course, because this was just a daydream. All of my grown kids would somehow manage to make their way home, and we’d combine our skills and strengths to build a big garden in our yard. Maybe we’d raise chickens.
I was sure that I’d come through the trauma as a stoic, cheerful, no-nonsense kind of Mamma. I’d clean the fish and make the dinners and be happy to use the bit of power we could get from our solar generator to keep everything clean.
There was a gauzy haze over this dream, as I walked around the quiet streets.
I never thought anything would actually happen.
Now, in the midst of the pandemic of 2020, as we sit in isolation from each other and wonder what in the world will happen next, the reality of a global disaster seems far less romantic.
After about a month of worsening news and scarier headlines, I have come to an interesting conclusion.
I don’t want to forage for edible weeds in the woods. I don’t want to fight my neighbors for toilet paper or soap or cans of tomatoes.
The reality is that not only can my adult sons not move here with their partners, we can’t even get together to share a meal right now.
My daughter and her family live a mere half a mile away across those fertile woods. I’ve been caring for her children every work day for five years. But now, in the age of Covid19, we can’t be together at all. I haven’t seen them since the day that schools were closed, almost three weeks ago.
And I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
We are staying apart, staying away from all other humans, because my daughter is due any day to give birth to her third child. If I leave my house to go to the grocery store, there is a risk that I might bring the virus back and could contaminate Kate and her children.
Because she sees her doctor at our local hospital once a week now, she is afraid that she might contaminate her father and I. So we simply stay apart. In our own little self-isolation pockets.
We’re all living in fear. And we’re all dealing with a total lack of control. Nobody on this entire earth knows what is coming next. Will the virus sputter out in the summer? Will it roar back in the fall? Will a vaccine be found, or a treatment?
Or will millions die? Will the economy of the world totally collapse, based as it is on a continuing flow of commerce?
Will schools ever reopen? Will governments implode into chaos? The truth is, we just don’t know.
Once, a few short years ago, those thoughts were just a way to pass the time as the dogs sniffed the fallen leaves.
Now they are right in front of me. And I am discovering that I am not the hearty pioneer woman I always imagined I’d be. Instead, I’m just another scared and overwhelmed old woman who desperately misses the touch of her children and grandchildren, and who has no desire to harvest cattails for dinner.
I don’t mean to be negative or anything, but what the HELL is wrong with humans?
I went out for the first time in a week, just to run two errands. Neither one involved human contact. We used the drive through at the bank, sanitizing as we went. Then I went to a friend’s house, to pick up some fresh eggs that she’d put on her porch for us. I Venmo’d her the money.
My husband and I are careful. We really don’t like the idea of getting pneumonia. We shudder to think of needing a ventilator. Death is not on our schedule this month.
And we love our family. We love my 90 year old Mom, and all three of our kids and their partners. We are crazy about our two grandkids and we’re being extra careful because of the third one who is due to appear any day.
We also respect our neighbors, our doctors, the nurses who will care for our newborn and his Momma.
More importantly, we grasp that whole “no man is an island” thing. It makes sense to us that if tons of people in our town get sick, the whole town will be in trouble. Same for our state. And our country.
Same for the whole damn world. Right?
So when every smart person around the world tells us to self-isolate, we’re doing it.
What the hell is wrong with everyone else out there, huh?
Here in Massachusetts, the Governor has ordered that all “non-essential” businesses must close. Of course, grocery stores and banks are allowed to stay open, along with doctors’ offices and pharmacies. Makes sense to me.
But why is Ocean State Job Lot still open? And Walmart? Why is T-Mobile up and running? And General Nutrition? Really?
Folks, as far as I could see from my short drive around this rural-suburban area, this virus is not going away any time soon.
The liquor store lots were full. The Walmart lot was barely showing a single open space, and it’s the size of two football fields.
I understand that people want to get outside, I do. I understand that sometimes picking up laundry detergent seems vital.
But honest to God, when you pack shoppers into a store, pushing carts around with their hands, touching items and putting them back, coughing, laughing, talking to each other and using the same little bathrooms, then you are hading the victory to the microbes.
I’m back in my safe little sanitized house again now. Hands have been thoroughly washed, eggs have been put away. We’ve settled in now for the duration.
I’m not going back out there again, I tell you. No way.
Because the rest of humanity seems to think this is just a little head cold, and they’re not going to let it stop them from getting a bargain on nail polish.
I’ve been a Red Sox fan since June of 1967. That was when my fifth grade teacher took our class to Fenway Park for a night game. I don’t remember who the Sox played that night, but I remember that the game went into extra innings, and that Tony Conigliaro hit a home run in the bottom of the tenth to win it.
I also remember that the picture of Tony C. in the program was about the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life and my first real crush was born.
As was my life as a Red Sox fan.
If you follow baseball at all, you’ll know that the Boston team used to be famous for it’s inability to win. Year after year, we Sox fans would cheer ourselves hoarse in the spring and cry ourselves hoarse in the fall.
That all changed in October of 2004, when the Sox finally overturned the curse that had plagued them for 86 years. They won the World Series.
All of New England celebrated that victory. We were beyond thrilled, beyond excited, beyond proud. You would have thought that every one of us had pitched in the playoffs!
What made things even sweeter for us was that in order to make it into the World Series, our beloved boys has beaten the despised New York Yankees.
All year long, all through the 2004 season, and for several years afterward, everyone in New England talked about how much we hated the Yankees.
I remember how everyone talked about the two teams. Our guys were “The Idiots”; the Yankees were the “Evil Empire.” We adored the relaxed, fun feeling of our team. So they drank in the clubhouse, so what? We were charmed by the antics of Johnny Damon, chuckling at the image of his naked pull-ups.
And we all knew, deep in our very souls, that A-Rod was weak, whining and pitiful. We loathed Derek Jeter, who we considered to be cold, emotionaless. An automaton with no soul. Don’t even get me started on what we thought of Joe Torre, a manager as sour as our own Terry Francona was sweet.
Curt Schilling? Our brave hero!
Mariano Rivera? A fool.
And on and on it went. It was kind of fun, you know? Our shared adoration for one team and shared hatred for the other gave us a sense of belonging. It gave us a feeling of safety and security. It gave us a sense that we were a clan, protected by our loyalty to ourselves.
It was only during one of the off seasons that it occurred to me that we were being a little closed minded. I listened to an interview with Derek Jeter on XM Radio. I was surprised to realize that the man was articulate, intelligent, warm and funny.
And then I was surprised at my own surprise.
I am embarrassed at how long it took me to realize that just because a guy wore a Red Sox jersey, I couldn’t assume that he was a prince. The whole “team” thing was really only about baseball games, not character.
When all was said and done, Curt Schilling turned out to be someone I wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus, while Derek Jeter is a guy I’ve truly come to admire.
So what does all this have to do with politics, you ask?
It’s the whole “Vote Blue No Matter Who” thing, that’s what. It’s the way that we immediately write off anyone who watches a different cable news channel than we do.
I know it can be fun to laugh at those memes about how stupid the “sheep” are because they can’t “think for themselves.” But this stuff is only funny when “our” side is saying it about “their” side. When the barb is turned around and aimed at “us”, we bristle and comfort ourselves by saying how hateful the other side is.
Here’s the thing: I have really strong political views. I’m a far left, progressive, Medicare-for-all, tuition-free-public-college, hippy snowflake. It would be really easy for me to pick a team.
But I’m no longer willing to assume that every other liberal thinker is a saint and every conservative a sinner. “We” aren’t smarter than “they” are. “We” aren’t kinder, or more gentle, or more deserving.
And we are NOT a team.
I don’t think of the political parties as teams. I don’t think of their followers as teams. I now realize that everyone who wears my favorite uniform isn’t a good guy and everyone who wears the other jersey isn’t criminal. I am no longer willing to vote for a candidate just because there is a D next to their name.
I have finally realized that I won’t be pitching in the playoffs. In fact, I know now that this isn’t actually a game and that I’m not bound by clan loyalty to help one team come out on top.
Because we live (at least theoretically) in a democracy, I am free to cast my vote for whichever candidate I prefer.
Donald Trump and his good buddies seem to be having a really hard time figuring out how to address the question of whether or not there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine situation. I mean, its kind of amusing to watch them bouncing around trying to figure how to talk about it.
“There was no quid pro quo!“
Trump has said it, Giuliani has said it, Mulvaney, Sondland, Pence. They’re all saying it.
Until they get confused and say something entirely different. Something along the lines of “Sure we refused to give Ukraine any money until they did what we wanted. We do that all the time!”
But “There was no quid pro quo!”
The problem, of course, is that the phrase ‘quid pro quo’ means “The giving of one valuable thing for another.”
Why are the Trumpsters having such trouble with this phrase?
I have a thought about that.
I think it goes something like this:
There’s Donald, seated behind the “resolute desk”, seething and stewing about Hillary’s emails and Pelosi’s walkout. He grinds his teeth, glances up at the TV, then hits the call button on his desk.
“Bring me my quid pro quo!”, he snarls.
“Sir?” the befuddled secretary asks.
“My quid pro quo! Bring it to me! I’m pretty sure it’s in my sock drawer.”
“Just do it!”
A hasty conversation ensues between the frantic secretary and the Acting Chief of Staff. Mulvaney enters the Oval.
“Mr. President,” he begins.
“I want my quid pro quo. I heard that many past Presidents have refused to use theirs. I heard that some people say you can’t use it. But I’m gonna use mine!! I want my quid pro quo. I’m gonna use that thing so much, like the world has never seen! It’s made gold, right?”
“Ah….well, see, it isn’t actually an object, sir. A quid pro quo is a Latin phrase. I think it means something about withholding food from foreign guests.”
“That’s it! We’ll quid pro quo the shit out of them!!! We invite Shifty Schiff and Screamin’ Nancy over for dinner, and then……bam!!! We refuse to give them cake!!!”
“Sir, I don’t…….”
“We’ll see who wins the quid pro quo then, won’t we?”
He gleefully rubs his hands together.
Mulvaney walks out, scratching his head and muttering, “no, it means foreign guests……”
An hour later, Rudy Giuliani appears on CNN, his beady little eyes darting left and right as he waits for Chris Cuomo to introduce him.
When Cuomo asks about the quid pro quo, Giuliani starts to spit out words as fast as he can think of them.
“Here’s the thing, here’s the thing, why aren’t we looking into the DNC and what they did and Joe Biden and Hunter, here’s the thing, there was no quid pro quo! There was golf and there was talking about it, great talking, talking and it was on the phone, and yes, why aren’t we investigating Crooked Hillary because she probably asked the Ukrainians to hide her own quid pro quo, who by the way, was here illegally while golfing with Bill Clinton and anyway, everyone had cake!”
Cuomo looks immediately outraged and begins to shout over Giuliani which makes the little lawyer twitch and spit.
It made the rest of us turn off the set and pour a drink.
I wish this story seemed a little more farfetched.
Let me introduce myself, if you haven’t read my work before now..
I am a retired speech/language pathologist. For more than two decades, I spent every workday diagnosing and treating language disorders. I have helped people with a wide variety of communication deficits. I was very good at my job.
That’s why, in spite of the fact that I’ve been out of the field for several years, I am completely confident when I write that Donald Trump is exhibiting a serious language disorder.
Let me explain.
A deficit in expressing and/or understanding language is called aphasia.The term is most often used in diagnosing people who were not born with the disorder, but who acquire it later in life. Aphasia can be caused by a head injury, a stroke or as a part of a more significant cognitive decline in older adults.
One aspect of aphasia impacts a person’s expressive language. This is the kind of language disorder that is more obvious to those who interact with the affected patient. The person struggles to say what they mean. They may have difficulties in expressing ideas logically and specifically They might be seen to be searching for the right word as they speak. Many aphasic people develop an overreliance on empty words and phrases. I have known patients who included a favorite phrase or two into nearly every sentence spoken, as the rote language makes it easier to get out a full thought.
Some aphasic people make up words when they can’t find the one they need. The new word might or might not sound similar to the one that is missing.
People with expressive aphasia sometimes substitute one word or phrase for a similar one (ie, saying “chicken” when they mean “duck” or saying, “off the book” instead of “off the hook.”) Their conversations may seem rambling, with rapid jumps from one topic to another without any explanation. A story can go off on any number of tangents, leaving the listener confused.
Many people with what we call “fluent aphasia” can string together a long series of words that seem to make sense until you realize that there isn’t much content there. There are lots of pronouns and adjectives, but not enough nouns to make the meaning clear.
Aphasia can impact receptive language, or comprehension, as well. Aphasic people may struggle to follow complex conversations. They often misunderstand directions or fail to grasp the meaning of a question they’ve been asked. They find it confusing when more than one person is speaking at a time, or when the topic shifts in mid-conversation.
Some people with aphasia have problems with reading and writing. They may struggle to read anything other than the simplest of texts. Their writing can contain mistakes in syntax, word order or spelling that weren’t seen in the past.
Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly should.
The President of the United States is showing every one of these symptoms.
“Mr. President, are you demanding that the fed chairman lower interest rates?”
“No, I don’t demand it but if he used his head he’d lower ’em. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate. And when they borrow money, when you look at what happens, look at what’s going on over there. They borrow money, they actually get paid to borrow money. And we have to compete with that. So, ah, if you look at what’s happening around the world, Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve have totally missed the call, I was right and just about everybody admits that. I was right. He did quantitative tightening, he shouldn’t have done that. He raised interest rates too fast, too furious. And we have a normalized rate, I, we call it that. And now we have to go the other direction. We’ll see if he does that. If he does it, you’ll see a rocket ship, you’ll see….. And if he doesn’t, we have a very strong economy.”
“But we could have. We could be, we could be in a place that this nation was seldom at if we had interest rates cut by the federal reserve. The Federal Reserve has let us down. They missed the call. They raised it too fast and they raised it too high and they did quantitative tightening and they shouldn’t have done the tightening and they shouldn’t have raised them to the extent that they did. We could have had some raising but nothing like what they did.”
“Mr. President, what happened to your strong appetite for background checks?”
“Oh, I have an appetite for background checks, we’re gonnna be doing background checks. We’re working with Democrats, we’re working with Republicans. We already have very strong background checks but we’re gonna be filling in some of the loopholes, as we call them at the border, and speaking about at the border, it would be really nice if the Democrats would indeed fix the loopholes because it would be really nice. But despite that, I want to thank Mexico. They have 26,000 soldiers at our border and they’re really stopping people from coming in.”
“But what does that have to do with background checks and guns?”
“So what happens is….with background checks….we’re dealing with Republicans, we’re dealing with Democrats, we’re dealing with the NRA, we’re dealing with gun owners, we’re dealing with everybody. And I think we’re gonna have something hopefully that’s meaningful.”
Note the repetition of phrases in this small sample. “We’re dealing with” and “we’re working with” were used over and over, with no description or clarification. Does he mean that he is meeting with those groups, or that he is making deals with them or something else? My impression is the President relies heavily on memorized phrases, which are easy to pull out and use.
Watch any of Trump’s unscripted remarks and try to count how many times he says, “We’ll see what happens.”
Note the word “raising” in the phrase “We could have had some raising.” The meaning is clear, but the word choice is troubling to this language specialist. We would expect the President of the US to say, “We could have had an increase.”
I’m sure you also noticed the rapid and inexplicable jump from the topic of background checks to that of the Mexican army at the border. It’s as if the word “loopholes” triggered a thought of the border crisis for some reason and that thought let made Trump jump completely off the track of the question.
Look at the discussion of Germany. Trump says,
“In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany.”
What’s much stronger than Germany? We can make a guess that he’s referring to our economy, but the language of the sentence is clearly abnormal. In English, we don’t use a comparative like “much stronger” without including the referent.
Then there is the repeated phrase “missed the call”. We have a few idioms that are close to this one (“missed the boat” or “missed the mark” come to mind.) But we don’t say “missed the call” unless we mean a phone call. Or we’re referring to a sports referee.
Do you recall when the President recently met with religious refugees in the Oval Office? The following exchange happened between Trump and a young Yazidi woman.
“All this happened to me. They killed my Mum, my six brothers, they left behind them… “
“Where are they now?”
“They killed them.”
She told him that her family had been killed. He asked “Where are they now?”
He did not have the slightest understanding of what she’d said.
We saw the same lack of comprehension this week when Trump was asked about having second thoughts on his trade war with China.
“Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China?”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not? Might as well, might as well.”
Once again, he completely failed to understand the question. A question which was then repeated by a different journalist, to which he replied,
“I have second thoughts about everything.”
Did he even understand the meaning of “second thoughts”? I am not at all sure.
Reading and Writing
Donald Trump is well known for his aversion to the written word.
When Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, spoke about his time at the White House, he said that Trump didn’t like to read. Tillerson was told that the President would not be reading the usual briefing notebook each morning, but instead would only accept bullet points or charts.
Mr. Trump himself has stated that he doesn’t like to read. In an interview with Axios shortly after his inauguration, Trump said that he doesn’t like to read, preferring bullet points to full essays.
“I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”
Although he is the author of several books, we know that each had a ghostwriter. Trump claims to have attended the best of schools, but has never let his school records be made public.
I say all of this because it brings up the diagnostic question of whether or not the man has always struggled with reading and writing, or whether this is a new phenomenon.
Whether or not that disorder is progressive is difficult to say but when I analyze his conversations from years ago, I believe that it is. His past interviews were far more coherent and much more linguistically sophisticated than what we hear now.
Whether or not the language disorder is developing as part of some type of dementia is up to a neurologist to diagnose.
I am not qualified to say whether or not Donald Trump has a personality disorder or a mental illness. But I am qualified to say that when I listen to him speak, I am increasingly convinced that he has significant aphasia.
What I know is this. Something is most assuredly amiss in the brain of the President of the United States. And he is the one with the nuclear codes.
I was thinking about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib today. I was thinking of her because she isn’t going to visit her grandmother, and that makes me so sad.
I’m a grandmother, too. I love my two grandchildren so much that sometimes I think it might be too extreme. I love their smiles, their hugs, their sweet voices.
I love their hair, and the softness of it against my cheek. I love their deep brown eyes and all the emotion those eyes express.
Being separated from them, even for a week, is a pain that tears my heart.
I live because my children and grandchildren breathe and laugh and sing and because they love me almost as much as I love them.
I can’t begin to imagine how awful it would be to be kept away from them.
So I think of Rep. Tlaib. I think of her “sity”, her 90 ish year old grandmother. I imagine how much the old woman craves the embrace of her beloved granddaughter, and how much Rashida misses her grandmother.
The Congresswoman wanted to travel to Israel/Palestine. She wanted to go to see her family, but also to address the desperately important issue of how the USA’s key ally treats its Muslim citizens. She and her colleague, Ilhan Omar, wanted to have some oversight of the country that receives one third of our foreign aid.
That’s their job, after all.
But Israel, with a push from the Donald Trump, denied them entry. The Israeli government claimed that the two Muslim women, who support and promote the idea of Palestinian autonomy, would be coming only to damage Israel.
Two young women.
And the most powerful country in the middle east was afraid of what they might say.
After a strong pushback from Americans of both political parties and many Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the government of Israel offered a tepid compromise. Rep. Tlaib could go to see her grandmother, but could not engage in any conversations or activities that would promote the cause of Palestinian activists or criticize the Israeli government. Rep. Omar, lacking a local grandmother, would not be allowed in at all.
Ms. Tlaib rejected the offer, saying that it violated her right to free speech and diminished her role as an elected official of the USA.
“Why doesn’t she just accept Israel’s offer to let her visit under a humanitarian visa?” I thought yesterday, as the story of the Congresswoman’s thwarted visit to her ancestral homeland unfolded.
“Why not just go, and hug her grandmother, and thank her for her years of care and guidance? Why not just brush off Israel’s rules about not mentioning the conditions under which the Palestinians are living? Just go, and don’t be so political!”
But then I started to think. I realized that I was thinking like a grandmother, and not like an educated citizen of the world.
And I remembered a moment that happened to me long ago, in the summer of 1973. I was living as an exchange student with a Muslim family in Tunisia. They were open minded, very well educated and as kind as any family could be.
We were talking about the increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel and the threat of war on the horizon. I said something about Israel, and there was a sudden silence in the room.
My sweet, kind, loving Tunisian Papa said to me, very gently, “Karima, ici on dit Palestine.”
“Karima, here we call it Palestine.”
Not Israel, but Palestine.
That simple phrase opened my eyes.
That land is both. It belongs to both. Both have roots in that place. But the needs and wishes of the Palestinians have long been pushed aside as the west tries to make amends for what happened during the Holocaust.
I understand both sides. I support both sides. I think there is room for both peoples to live in that ancient land.
But I also support Rashida Tlaib in her decision not to go there now. Not to visit her much loved grandmother.
I support her desire to go at a time when she can address the governments of both the US and Israel and say, “Here we call it Palestine.”
I’ve been writing about Donald Trump’s disordered language since the morning after his nomination. I listened to him speak extemporaneously on that morning after his big day, and I recognized the very same disorders of expressive language that I had seen for 30 years as a speech/language pathologist.
I wrote about my observations then, and my feelings have not changed at all in the past two years.
In fact, now I find myself ever more convinced that our leader has a significant expressive language disorder. But I am wondering now if that disorder is secondary to a cognitive disorder, like dementia, as has been posited by the group Duty to Warn.
I am not a neuropsychologist, so I am not qualified to speak on the question of Trump’s cognitive functioning. I’ll leave that to those who are so qualified.
But I think I need to go on the record in documenting what to me are clear and obvious symptoms of a language disorder.
So here I am.
Today I was in my car, listening to XM Radio. I happened to hear 10 minutes of comments by Donald Trump on the environment and his administration’s determination to keep it healthy and clean.
Here are my observations, as a retired speech/language pathologist.
Overuse of a familiar word: In the space of ten minutes, Trump used the adjective “incredible” 6 times. His other adjectives included “big, beautiful, tremendous”. The word “incredible” carries very little meaning, obviously. It could mean a variety of things, including powerful, successful, unexpected, unbelievable, etc. When a speaker relies on one word, it can be an indication of a word finding issue.
Trump was talking about the situation with Iran, and used this phrase “They threatened them dearly.” What does this mean? Huh? “Threatened them dearly”?
This one goes back to Trump’s statements at the Lincoln Memorial. In that speech, Trump used the phrase “they rammed the ramparts.” As a former speech/language pathologist, this sounds to me like a situation where the speaker knew the phrase “man the ramparts”, but was unable to recall it on demand. Instead, he used an incorrect and laughable phrase. One cannot “ram the ramparts” as Trump stated.
All of this is of serious concern. I’m not writing because I dislike Trump. I’m writing it because it is increasingly clear to me that we are all under the control and guidance of someone who is demonstrating very serious issues with communication and possibly with cognition.
We need this President to undergo a serious and complete neuropsych eval as soon as possible.
And as a committed and confirmed Bernie supporter, I’d like to see the same eval happen on any future elected President.
The other day I saw a poll question on the website Smerconish.com. The question was “How proud are you to be an American?”
Interesting question, I guess.
I really like Michael Smerconish, the owner of the website. He is also the host of a show on SiriusXM’s POTUS station and one on CNN. He is very smart, so I always learn something when I listen to him. He is very well informed, so I believe what he reports. And he is pretty non-partisan. He has been a Republican for most of his adult life, but is open minded and thoughtful.
I like him.
So I thought a lot about his poll question.
And here’s what I decided.
There are many things in my life that make me proud.
I’m very proud of my children. They are kind. They are altruistic. They all work in fields that let them help other people. They love each other. They are loyal friends. I am proud of them because I had something to do with how they turned out. I worked hard to be the best parent I could be.
I’m proud of my professional life. I’ve helped to teach hundreds of kids over the years. I’ve learned a lot, taken classes, listened to my smarter colleagues. I’m proud of having done my best to be a supportive and loving adult in the lives of my students. I did my best. I worked hard. I’m proud of my efforts.
My garden gives me a lot of pride, too. When I moved into this house almost three decades ago, there were no flowers. I have dug, weeded, thinned, composted, taken gardening classes, read books, transplanted, pulled up grass……You get it. I have worked very hard to make my yard look inviting in the warm months and cozy in the cold ones. And it’s all organic, too!
But when I think about the question on the website, I am confused.
Why should I feel pride in something for which I bear no responsibility? I was born an American citizen. I didn’t do a single thing to make that true. It’s true because of blind luck. And because of the courage and determination of my grandparents, who chose to leave the beauty and poverty of Italy in the hope of giving their children a better life.
I’m grateful that they did that. I’m happy about it. But proud?
I don’t deserve to feel pride.
How do I feel about the founding principals upon which this country was built?
Well. Given the fact that my ancestors were on another continent when all of that glory was unfolding, arriving on these shores only in the middle of the industrial revolution, I don’t see why I should feel pride in my country.
Do I like the principals and goals enumerated in our founding documents? Sure, for the most part I like them just fine. Sure. Freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness? All good.
But am I proud of them? No. Because I didn’t think of them, fight for them, sacrifice to see them put into place. I didn’t write them down and sign the Declaration of Independence even though that signature might have cost me my life.
So. I guess I’m not actually proud to be an American.
But how do I feel about my personal role in the life of the United States? Am I proud of that?
To some extent, yes I am.
I’m proud that I follow our political discourse. I’m proud that I read multiple sources to shape my ideas. I’m proud that I have gotten involved and have marched for causes I support. I’m proud of the fact that I always vote.
These are actions I’ve taken. Efforts that I have made, on my own, to improve life in this country.
I’m proud of myself as an American. But I don’t understand the idea of being “proud to be an American.”
I am an American because, by the luck of the draw, I was born here. I am an American because other people made sacrifices to get me here.
I am proud to be a decent, kind, loving human. I am proud to be inclusive and welcoming. I’m proud to be nurturing.
I am be proud to have given something good and beautiful to the world.
And I will remember that I have no reason, and no right, to be proud of the things that were given to me simply by luck.
I had a wonderful conversation today with two intelligent, thoughtful women. One is a college student. Incredibly bright, well read, an engineer in training, and a gifted singer. The other is her grandmother, born and raised in the Netherlands, but an American for many decades.
We were chatting about life at a family party, and the topic of motherhood came up. The young woman has her doubts about wanting to raise a child. As I teased her and prodded her about the joys of parenting, she said something that brought my words to a halt.
“I don’t know where this country will be in five or ten years. I don’t know that I want to bring a child into a place like this.”
That lead us to a discussion of national politics, and to the scary and bewildering place in which we find ourselves.
We talked about the current horde or Democratic candidates, and realized that all three of us are firmly behind the progressives who are running. We all shared our excitement about the fact that there seems to be a competition to shake out which one of them is the most liberal.
How refreshing, I said to them both, I’ve been calling myself a Socialist since the 1970s!
That’s when my new friend, the woman raised in the Netherlands, began to share her thoughts.
“I don’t understand this strange reaction to the word Socialist! It doesn’t mean that you don’t want any kind of capitalism! It means that capitalism must have a conscience!”
We talked about the fact that a healthy and thriving country is one that takes care of the very basic needs of it’s people. About the fact that our friends from Europe are unable to understand when we tell them that our daughter will only have six weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth to a child.
We talked about the fact that if a country is able to produce a healthy, well educated, financially secure next generation, it is likely to have a stronger economy than a country whose people live in poverty.
“It’s so simple!” said my friend. “Socialism means that the government takes care of the social needs of the people. Why don’t Americans look at the lives of Europeans and see what it could be like here? Why don’t they look at life in the Scandinavian countries? Or in the rest of Western Europe?”
I had no answer for her, obviously. But I agreed with her assessment.
It is so simple.
Taxes should be paid to the government so that the government can provide the basic needs that individuals can’t grant to themselves. Education, paved roads, healthcare, national defense, a secure retirement, a healthy environment.
“It is so simple.”
Yes. It really is.
I wonder if the United States can ever get itself to see that fact.
I watch too much news. I read too much of it. I listen to it on and off all day. NPR, Sirius XM, CNN, Reuters, AP, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe.
I check Facebook and Twitter, too.
I. Need. To. Stop.
Sure, it’s good to stay informed and it’s important to know what is happening outside of these four walls.
But holy disaster movie, Batman, it is really terrifying out there!
There are black holes swallowing parts of the galaxy, giant meteors hurtling this way, hundreds of species facing imminent extinction right here on our own little blue planet.
And that’s only the beginning.
Democracy is crumbling around us. Our country is being run by a paranoid narcissist and his evil minions. War drums are beating around the world. Children are dying in their classrooms almost every day.
Measles are back. Superbugs are emerging. Scientists are predicting another flu pandemic.
Oh, and the planet is a decade away from becoming uninhabitable.
I’ve taken a light tone in this piece, but the truth is far more serious. Like most people I know, I am walking around every single day with a vague sense of impending doom.
Sometimes I look at my beautiful grandchildren and my heart hurts. Will they have a future? What will life be like for their children?
I find myself in need of hope. I need reassurances that humans can truly rise above our worst instincts. I seek out proof that the human spirit is resilient and that good does outlast evil.
For me, hope and reassurance are often found in books. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to find books that feel real and true. I don’t want a romanticized view of war, where all of the “good guys” are beautiful and loyal and kind, and all the “bad guys” are evil. I want some reality, but I want it to lift me up.
I found a book like that last week, completely by accident. I follow a blog called “The Cricket Pages“. It’s author, Rachel Mankowitz, has a book published on Amazon. It looked interesting, and I try to support other bloggers. So I bought “Yeshiva Girl.”
And I fell into a story that grabbed me by the heart. It’s one of those books that is written with a spare, elegant style that doesn’t waste a word. The main character, a girl named Izzy, is in pain throughout the book. The mood is somber and anxious, but she never gives in completely.
When the book ended, I was sad that there wasn’t more to read. I fell asleep thinking about Izzy, wondering what happened to her next. And I realized that whatever it was, I was sure that Izzy would be alright.
I felt stronger.
We need more books like Yeshiva Girl! Thank you, Rachel Mankewitz!