I became slightly disillusioned while living in London and feeling like the U.K. is also a pretty great country, and many of the countries we visited in Europe seemed also marvelous and wonderful. I even began to think that in their long histories they had sorted out a few things America was still grappling with.
Then, in one day, last week, it felt as if all the love for ‘Merica that I still had in my heart unraveled.
Now before you start to tell me all that is great about the chosen land, put your hearts at ease because I believe there is a lot of greatness in my country. But this post is not about that, this post is about how I saw America as a land that is not only made up of flawed people, but is in itself flawed in systemic and structural ways. And of course it’s going to make people uncomfortable for me to say this, watching any kind of admired, even worshipped, person or thing fall from its pedestal is deeply painful. Nonetheless, if I’m going to reconcile my own messy, inadequate life with the ideals I’ve been fed all my life, I also need to reconcile my messy and inadequate country with the ideals I’ve been fed all my life.
Thursday morning I got an email from a friend of mine, who was born and raised in Europe but has lived in the United States. She shared with me her despair while living in San Francisco and trying to make sense of the dramatic and indisputable wealth gap she observed daily. She felt confused and heartbroken at the epidemic of homelessness in contrast with fancy hotels she visited for conferences related to her business. She said to me,
“I mean...I can't comprehend why rich people wouldn't want to pay more taxes and welfare contributions and be just a little less rich, if nothing else just so that they wouldn't have to step over sleeping/dying homeless people (some with kids) on their way home from a fancy job at Google with their $20 poke bowl dinner in their hand.”
Thursday afternoon, while eating my lunch I skimmed news headlines and came across an article written as a frustrated follow-up to a story President Trump told in his State of the Union speech. The story was a warm and fuzzy feel good anecdote about a police officer adopting the infant of a drug-addicted mother. From the article I read, by Christina Cauterucci:
“The story Trump told ought to illustrate the threadbare state of America’s social safety net, the cruelty of an unimaginably wealthy nation that lets pregnant women sleep on the street.”
Doesn’t the story really just “illustrate our need for a humane drug policy, better addiction treatment, more affordable housing, or better access to contraception and maternal health care”?
Thursday evening Richard and I attended a speaking event at Riverside church in Manhattan. This month marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at Riverside Church, and to celebrate, the church is hosting events to commemorate his work. Less than two weeks before, we as a nation collectively celebrated the life and work of Doctor King. And yet during this event, I listened to a young black teacher, one of America’s finest, describe being dragged by his ankles out of a police station after being arrested at a protest in Ferguson. He was doing the same thing Martin Luther King Jr did fifty years ago, for the same cause, a more equitable and just system in America.
Thursday night on our way home from the event, as Richard and I made a subway transfer we walked through the underground tunnels of NYC and passed a disabled boy (he couldn’t have been more than 20 years old) making music for money. He had limb differences, and sat on a plastic milk crate, with two prosthetics beneath his knees and was missing both hands. Where I would usually feel profound sadness, I instead felt a hot anger and spitefully lamented to Richard
“Seriously America? This is the best we can do for this kid?”
I’m too hurt and disappointed to offer disclaimers describing what I love about this nation. I reserve the right to simultaneously love and criticize my country. We can do better. We have to do better.