Thoughts on Independence

“Treason is the reason for the season,” read the banner on the float, the bed of the truck inhabited by men and women and children all dressed in an attempt to emulate British royalty. I chuckled at their mantra. One man’s treason…

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I started off today writing sort of a lengthy explanation about some disagreements I had yesterday regarding immigration, gun control, and prison reform, all with various people at various barbecues, but then I stopped. While I suspect many might agree with me, I’m not in the business of fishing for agreement. I did, however, have one moment yesterday that, at least to me, stood out as meaningful. I think I’ll begin by sharing that.

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There were some folk at the second barbecue who really dug wine and who brought some of their favorites with them from California. I reciprocated the gesture by snagging a few from my cellar and together we put together a worth ensemble from which we sipped and shared throughout the night. I was most proud of the 2006 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot I contributed. Hourglass Merlot is probably my favorite Merlot, and that’s saying something about a varietal for which I have a noted affinity.

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Anyway, at one point in the night, I ran into a young man who had graduated from a school I previously taught at, though he never had me as a teacher. He skipped straight from his undergrad to his Ph.D. program at MIT — obviously a sharp kid. I asked if he’d like a glass of wine and he accepted the Hourglass I offered to him. As we stood chatting in the kitchen, he asked why I hadn’t taken greater issue with a statement made by another guest, a statement akin to “they should learn our language”, and I replied that I was learning. There was no way in that moment, I felt, to change this person’s mind, but in listening to him attempt to articulate his beliefs and by asking him questions, I was gaining insight into an entire system of beliefs, a system that is prevalent and indeed appears to be held by those in power at the moment. I didn’t see anything to gain even by winning the argument in that instance, but I did think I could learn something if I could hold my tongue and hear what he was saying. In the end, I felt I had accomplished the mission. The young man listened politely, agreeing somewhat tepidly that there is something to be learned from everyone, until we were summoned by our hostess to come and witness the fireworks display.

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One of the most important things that Hamilton the musical sheds light on historically is how frequently and profoundly at odds the founding fathers often were with one another. Many of them truly hated one another, undid one another politically, even shot one another in the famous example of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. And yet, from this seemingly untenable discord was forged the nation we so dearly cherish today. It is an imperfect nation, yes, a nation that grossly abuses human rights and which recently elected a man who in the last 24 hours purported to believe that we had airports in the year 1775, and yet it is also a beacon of light in a very tangible way, a model of functioning democracy, a place of almost unthinkable personal liberties, a land in which class systems and oppression, though present, are not always permanent.  It is a place where people who disagree deeply can still break bread with one another, can still celebrate the things which they mutually appreciate.  It is, I believe, the greatest nation in the world, despite our countless flaws, and I am proud to contribute what I can to it.

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“Treason is the reason for the season,” read the banner on the float, and I chuckled. The nation which we rebelled against is now perhaps our greatest ally — but not before they burnt the White House to the ground in what we call the War of 1812 yet which is widely regarded by the rest of the world as a minor outlying skirmish of the Napoleonic Wars.  Perspective changes everything, and nothing exists in a vacuum. One person professes that Spanish speakers should learn English. I express a desire to know Spanish — and Sonja and I are preparing to enroll our oldest in a dual-language program when he is ready for elementary school. Yet I suspect that despite our very different approaches, what we all really want from language is to be able to communicate with one another. There is common ground there, if we are willing to listen, and we are blessed to live in one of the rare times and places in history in which two people may be afforded the right to hold such diametrically opposed expressions of what might turn out to be a rather similar position should we actually be able to hear each other speak.  This is an opportunity not to be lost, and it is the fruit of the American independence for which I am so deeply grateful.

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Cheers to our independence, and may we not squander it,

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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