While driving from Philadelphia to Spokane last summer with my sons Eddie and Milo, the subject of the great American divide was broached more than once.
“How can people from the same country hate each other so much?” Milo asked after we left a restaurant in Wyoming.
What prompted the question was a conversation we overheard about how a patron the prior evening was shown the door by the proprietor after expressing discontentment with President Trump. According to what we heard, the man received the boot after simply uttering his opinion.
There was no violence, just a point-of-view delivered. That was enough for the gentleman to be escorted to the pavement. The impact of that story remains with Milo. But we didn’t experience any personal discord on our idyllic Jack Kerouac-esque run. The opposite was true.
When we broke down in Wyoming, a man stopped by immediately offering help. When we were leaving a Kansas barbecue joint, one of the employees overheard our conversation. When he heard about our jaunt, he gave us two pounds of burnt ends to enjoy on our journey.
While navigating through Montana, we killed time by discussing the subject at length, and I focused on all the good we experienced during the trip. My point to Milo, 15, and Eddie, 18, is that there is more good than bad in this blessed country of ours.
The great American divide discussion resurfaced when the U.S. Capitol was invaded on Wednesday. Milo couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Three years ago, Milo and Eddie were standing outside the Capitol before the latter’s ice hockey tournament in Washington, D.C.
Despite the endless traffic on the Beltway, we love the District. There are terrific restaurants, culture and history. We stayed in charming Georgetown and visited museums and historical sites. The experience was edifying and inspiring.
Watching what transpired in the hallowed halls where the U.S. Congress meets was incomprehensible. It felt as though we were witnessing a film adapted from a science-fiction novel.
It reminded me of the phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall.” There has been emphasis on the former part of that motto for years, but the focus should be on the latter.
Eddie was in utero during the 9/11 tragedy, and Milo was born four years later. Their post 9/11 existence was about uniting as a nation battling a far-flung enemy. My dad catapulted his grandsons to another echelon via his memories.
As young children, Milo and Eddie heard battlefront stories from my father, who served all four years of World War II. My dad had the misfortune of turning 18 just before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
However, the gritty and resourceful Army veteran lived to tell the tale, unlike many of his peers. My boys’ animated hero delivered colorful anecdotes and left behind scrapbooks from his days fighting abroad.
So Milo has had a lifelong interest in World War II. Each of my children are well-versed on international conflict. The effect of my father’s war stories is that my kids at a young age opted for peace.
As prepubescents, Eddie and my daughter Jillian, 22, joined Children’s International Summer Village, which is a wonderful organization founded in 1950 by Dr. Doris Twitchell Allen. The post-WWII concept was to gather children from around the world at summer camps so they could understand that we’re not different, and we can live in peace.
The progressive doctor decided that a child was mature enough for the experience at 11. Children spent a month, typically abroad, living with children from a variety of countries. Jillian resided in Sweden with an eclectic group of children but was initially disappointed.
“Everyone in my delegation can’t believe how different people look here,” Jillian wrote. “But they all look like Eddie.”
It didn’t take long for Jillian to love the experience even though the only form of communication was via mail. Eddie spent his summer in Norway and enjoyed his time with children from around the world immensely. Jillian and Eddie remain friends with those from Brazil, Iceland and Canada.
Milo failed to apply to CISV due to sports commitments, and my daughter, Jane, unfortunately, missed her 11-year-old experience last year due to the pandemic.
CISV does have camps in America, but they are inhabited by those from around the globe. “Maybe CISV should just have Americans and see if we can come together,” Eddie joked.
However, Eddie turned serious and waxed in an optimistic fashion after witnessing the Capitol footage. “From what I know and have experienced, I’m hopeful when it comes to my generation,” Eddie said.
“You look at what happened at the Capitol, it looks like almost all of the people are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. I’m sure there are young people who were part of that, but I have a feeling everything is going to be alright if we can get through this decade.”
Nine years is a long time. There are so many questions, and there is uncertainty. How do we unite a country that has not been so divided since the Civil War? How can we make it so that we don’t have to preface a post-pandemic Thanksgiving with the following address: “Please don’t mention politics.”
During our last interview, comic George Carlin stressed that America is circling the drain and that Nero was playing. The late icon said that every empire has to end. I can only imagine what he would have said after witnessing the Capitol invasion.
However, I don’t believe it’s over. We have to figure out a way to co-exist at least for our children. I believe Eddie is correct about his generation. I’ve met many of my children’s peers across the country courtesy of baseball and ice hockey tournaments, and I’ve watched children of different colors and creeds laugh, play video games and execute on the field and/or ice together.
I’m very optimistic about this next generation of potential difference makers. The promising impression I get from kids is that their world is not about race, political affiliation and religious beliefs. I’m impressed by their inclusivity.
It would be beyond a tragedy if Carlin was correct. Maybe what’s best post-pandemic is for folks to take the great American road trip. Our love for the country is so much deeper after witnessing the majesty, grandeur and hospitality that truly makes America great.
My children learned you can’t experience that through the lens of a TV camera. So when it’s safe, explore our country. Embrace what makes America so unique and amazing. While you’re at it, embrace each other. Many might not realize it while sequestered by mandate or choice, but we’re all that we’ve got.
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