Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence

Some people are upset with the following post. It seems ot be negative and pointless on a day we all need to look up to the greatness of America, to celebrate our nation while most of the world's people condemn us.

I'd hoped that in the post below I would show that we are greater than all other nations because we are free to be people as individuals, independent of all but our own choices to be as we will. I consider that to be the greatest freedom of all, the freedom of will to be, whether for good or ill. Below I try to celebrate our freedom in the harsh light of our lives as they are. I do not try to paint our lives as pretty if they aren't. I show the negative side of one small town and hope that in doing so one will see the greatness of it in its struggle to rise above and keep on to find the better. We can try, whereas almost no one else on Earth can, and in that choice we are blessed.

My little town, populated by the dead and the dying, is a town of men and women who live lives of their own making, and in that they are blessed with a freedom to choose what few others can. That, friend, is our greatness. America is not perfect. America is what we make of it in a harsh world, and we are free to live as we will. When we live rightly we are supreme. And when we fail we do so by our own free choice. Below, in spite of the harshness, I celebrate our independence. Without the right to do evil we are nothing. And we are independent.

Friend, do you know how blessed you are?
****

I stopped in my home town a few years ago, stayed a few days with a girl I picked up on the road, and while we were there I showed her around the town.

This is my friend ....'s old home. He was a goofy kid, got hooked on heroin, robbed a gas station, went to prison for two years, got out and died the next night at our friend's house. Larry'd been off the heroin so long he wasn't ready for it, and he over-dosed the first time he shot up.

Over here at the lake I lost four buddies on highschool graduation night, four losers who didn't graduate. They were drunk for about the first times in their lives, they being drug users not used to drinking. They got drunk and went into the lake and drowned. One, sitting trapped in the back seat, drowning, gripped a beer can so tightly the top broke off.

Over here at the motel one of our friends was trying to shoot up methadrine using a turkey baster with a tire pump needle, filling it from a soup ladle. He was one of the idiots who'd been in the truck on the hill with the cross street running running through the middle. The lot of them had stopped and I got in the back while they idled at the hilltop, shot up, and let out the clutch, hoping to level off half way and then descend again for a second rush. They all passed out and the truck hit a tree. At the motel they were all doping like fiends, not even noticing that a girl had died on the floor. That's our cabin there, next door.

And on the road right about here my pal passed out after getting drunk and he killed a woman and her kids as they were walking down the road. The police woke him up and gave him the bad news.

X was taking dope and it pissed off his mother that he kept stealing her stuff, so she got in her car and tried to run him over on the front lawn, and he got pissed off and shot her in the head with a shot gun.

And over here this kid was roller skating and another kid grabbed his arm and spun him, not really meaning to send him through a glass door. The kid who died had already been kicked in the balls so hard he'd had to be castrated.

That girl got pregnant when she was eleven, grade six.

My mom died there, all bones and colostomy bags filling up with dripping stuff.
****

I don't go home very often.

I don't go home, not because I cry in front of a girl I met on the road as I give her the tour of the town: I don't go home because I'm still curious about the whole world, and I can't be at home and elsewhere too. For all the bad things I recall there are more that were wonderful, things that make me happy to be alive. Yeah. I wonder; therefore I wander. Often I'm gone from my home town for a decade or more. I'll probably die some place far away. That'll be the end of that.

I don't get home very often, but America never leaves me. I remember nearly every day of my life as if I were watching a movie. When I die America will carry on just fine without me. Yeah, the bad stuff, the good stuff, what do you do?

It's the Fourth of July, and today I have to work on something I'd avoid forever if I could. Such is life. I'll cope. America will do what it does, and America will cope. I put on some music and I sing along with some fine gusto to an upbeat-tempoed tune, jazzy and swingin'.

In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord I recall my little town
Coming home after school
Riding my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze
And after it rains there's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagination they lack
Everything's the same back in my little town

In my little town I never meant nothing
I was just my father's son
Saving my money
Dreamin of glory
Twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun

Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
****

Down there at the bottom of the lake in the toolies, that's where my dad caught a bass so big that I chained it through the gills and hiked up the cliff to the road where I hung the fish on a post and pointed at it every time a car drove past till eventually the fish stank so bad I had to bury it.

I remember.

I remember the Fourth of July when the fireworks on the lake were so incredible that there has never again been anything like it, and the guys on the barge who blew up with it, they were shot through with sand from the lake bottom.

And the girl who was beaten to death while we stood looking from behind a rock on the shore, not even caring any longer at all about the crawdads getting away. And the horror, and the horror, and the horror? No, that's not it. That's life. It's hard and it ends.

I remember America. I don't remember being happy at all. Life was often very hard. Many, many people were murdered, more died young by violence, and more still were destroyed by life itself.

The horror? Yes, there was lots of it. I remember it. None of that makes any difference, really. It's not my life that determines the good of my nation. I remember my flag and my country, and regardless of my personal life I remember my nation as it is in itself. My town was good in spite of the personal things bad. My home was a good home in spite of the life I lived in it. It's nothing to do with me, not to do with my personal experiences. America? It's the Fourth of July, and nothing for good or for bad can change it. My life is not that important to anything, and not to America at all. I live the life of a man independent. I grew up, I went, I live.

I don't know if I've been clear here. I don't have anything to add. If it's muddled you'll have to make of it what you will, if anything. It's very late, and I'm going home to lay in bed where I'll close my eyes in the darkness, and there I will remember again, not my life but the life of my nation.

7 comments:

Always On Watch said...

Dag,
Flaws? Every nation has them. Personal tragedies? Sure.

But still, those American ideals are there for us to reach toward.

Charles Henry said...

"That's life. It's hard and it ends."
And it's all the more incredible, when an individual or a nation of individuals, chooses to live meaningful lives along the way.
Where all walk home at night, some choose to hum a tune.
Where all make lists on notepads, some choose to doodle in the margins.
Where all have faces, some choose to smile.
The incentive to choose to live a meaningful life: for me, that's the glory of America, and it's people.

Happy Independance Day, Dag (and US readers)

truepeers said...

I love the fish story, Dag. You were a born blogger before the word, just as the Declaration of Independence speaks to universal truths. Happy 4th!

dag said...

I hope my point is claear in the post above: that flaws or no flaws, the nation isn't about one boy's life but about the nation of all people, their good and their bad, and the over-arching greatness that all free people make by their individual efforts, even if in the details we see the hard, the cruel, the stupid, the murderous.

America isn't good or bad according to any one person's life. No one is that important, and no has any good sense who claims America is bad or good according to how his life plays out. I can't stomach those who claim they hate America because they are victims of this or that. If that were the case then no country could claim to be as good as America. But that's not the point.

America is for all of us to live in and to live our personal lives as we will and as we can. Because of our independent nation we are free people. Our personal lives are personal. America gives us that privacy, the right to own our own lives as free people, come what may.

Americans are free to be themselves in practice. Theory be damned. In practice, Americans are free, and because of that they are a nation of freedom and of decency by choice. The bad things that happen will happen anywhere, and I know from bitter experience they get far worse. None of it counts in the final ledger of nationhood. The fact is that individuals choose.

Those who hate America hate themselves and make it up as the fault of our nation. How does that happen? America is a land where people are who they are because of who they are and how they choose to live. It's open to all to live if they choose. There's no blaming my nation for the failures of the individuals.

The worst of it all is the blaming of America for success. On that note, I throw up my hands, if not my lunch.

Maybe it's not clear above that I love America. If that's the case it's possibly because I wrote about the hard things as if they mattered. They don't. The point is the choice people can make and the life therafter. The more deeply a man owns his own life the greater is his life; the higher the rise, or the lower the fall. And even the fall, if it's his own life, is a thing of greatness. That is the greatness of America. No other nation allows for it. And we, having it, must fight for it and expand it, universalise it so that all men everywhere and always are free to live their won lives, no matter how they live.

And then, whether here or there, every man will be American in the mind. He will be free.

Jane said...

I think America has a great national anthem. I like hearing it at the beginning of hockey games when American teams play Canadian teams.

Such beautiful imagery. Like the opening line, "Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light" and the phrase "the twilight's last gleaming?"
And I like the ending, "the land of the free."

When people criticize the U.S. and act like Canada should model on Europe, I remind them of the strong free speech laws in the U.S. I think they are still the best in the world. That's the thing I admire about
America.

And America seems to have more protection of private property than Canada. I didn't realize how weak Canada's property rights were until last night when old Tom, the abusive caretaker at Strathcona Park in Vancouver, was yelling, "There are no property rights in Canada! No goddam property rights in this country! Show me anywhere in the constitution where property rights are protected." I didn't realize how easily the government could expropriate your land in Canada, although it did happen many years ago to my grandparents who had land near the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Happy Independence Day.

To the Muslim women in America:
"Toss off you're burkas,
throw on your pearls,
celebrate Independence,
by going out with the girls."

[I heard part of that rhyme on CFUN radio.]

truepeers said...

The responsibility of/for freedom, for better and worse. There you nail it Dag, for that is what very few "nations" allow their people to repesent. Far more often, the "nation" becomes a mere state that tries to legislate around a responsibility refused, all risks duly hedged by big brother, all "injustices" given therapy and compensation. But you accept the responsibility and if it's really true what you say about your memory, one can only say "good show, mate".

truepeers said...

Dag, this reminds me of what you just wrote.