I am an ignorant American.
I spend most days with my eyes shut. I turn away and seek refuge from that which has become far too complex to understand.
I acknowledge that life has become hard, and that for many in this country life is a lot more difficult than my own. Money must be spared for the expenses that continue to rise, but my family is by all means not destitute. The jobs we are fortunate to maintain may at times seem fragile, but why worry about that which we cannot control; that which may or may not come to pass? Why let it keep us awake at night, when for now we are fine?
What will happen when we are not fine? I can’t think about that. I do not manage well with fear and the unknown.
I shy away from political discussion, always. I have never considered myself well educated in this respect. To understand it all you have to go way back to the beginning, and I confess I did not pay attention.
In high school I memorized the important dates, the names of our presidents, and gained a fair understanding of how our country came to be. But that is all I recall. If we did talk about recent American history or the world outside of our borders, I was probably writing love notes under the desk.
Current events? We may have talked about those, but I do not recall there being much international discussion.
News? Sometimes Kurt Loder filled me in.
Wait a second; didn’t he mention there was a war going on back then? Pretty sure I had a cousin fighting in the Gulf. No, not the Gulf of Mexico, silly; it was a different gulf and there was something about a storm in the desert. But I do not believe that we discussed it much in our classrooms. In truth I cannot say for that for certain either; I may have been too busy crying over my love life.
In college I had no interest in current events or history. I was too focused on my psych classes. I had to go all introspective and try to figure myself out. I didn’t have time to understand what was going on inside our own country, never mind beyond it.
It turns out there was a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center while I was still at URI. I don’t think I even heard about it when it happened. No, I may not have been able to tell you about that, but I know for certain where I was when the O.J. verdict was announced. I was not completely out of touch.
In fact, I do not think I learned of the first WTC bombing until the day after the towers fell. That was the day I woke up.
For I had been sleeping; I had been sleeping for twenty eight years. I stood there; bones rattled and frozen to the core as I cried like every American did that day. And then I cried the days that followed, and the months and the years since. I did not lose a loved one in New York or Virginia or Pennsylvania. I was not there when it happened. But I do claim my grief with that of, and for, a collective America.
I wept with the knowledge that in one horrifying day the entire world had changed. But the worst part about it for me was that I did not understand why.
Why? Why did they do this? What did we do to deserve it? What is there to hate about this wonderful country? A country that lets me live in peace, and be whoever I want to be, and worship in any way I want to worship, and just when I think it can’t be more awesome, also gives me a say in the laws that govern me.
So I sat there like everyone else glued to the television and watched the chaos, and the crumbling, and the grief, and the lost hope as the search for survivors who were not there came to an end and the clean up began.
All the while the media uttered words like terrorism, intent, and plans long in the making, and then more words I had never even heard of. I sat there, shrunken, and whispering to myself, “Who the hell are al Qaeda and what the f#&k is jihad?”
I was an ignorant American. Stripped from my warm cocoon of security, all I was left with was fear. I guess that means they did their job. To this day, I fear.
I have spent the last nine years trying to catch up. Trying to educate myself on not just what has happened, but what now continues in the Middle East, here in the United States, and elsewhere. And it is exhausting, and there are some days that I just cannot do it.
There are many days when I cannot hear or read another word about war, death, greed, anger, hatred, theft, intolerance, conspiracy, the doom of what can only be a fallen America, and the senseless crimes, the so many awful things that we do to each other that have nothing to do with anything.
More than ever I see the attraction to remain an ignorant American. All you have to do is shut your eyes, keep your head down, and don’t listen. What wrong can come of that?
I have always considered it my civic duty to vote, but I never felt like I voted well. In recent years I have pondered that it may be my civic duty not to vote if I choose to hide in this ignorance. How can I vote if I do not understand what I am voting for?
I tended to just pick an issue, look over the cheat sheets for who supported what, cast my ballot, and that was it. Now I try harder, and as a result my head spins. The problem I face, which I imagine is the same for many, is who do you vote for when no one supports everything that you think they should? What do you do when your choice is to decide between, for the lack of a better phrase, the lesser evil? The result is you have to choose one issue over another: war, national security, health care, environmental destruction, education, Roe vs. Wade, same sex marriage, etc, etc, etc. Then you have to consider that voting for one person will affect the sway of the House or the Senate, or the appointment of the Supreme Court. And all of this can become forfeit just because you make the mistake of supporting one issue over another.
It’s like having to choose one from two or three buffet stations in a restaurant that has a great atmosphere, but in general you aren’t crazy about the menu packages. You don’t like everything on it, but you go for the station that has some of what you might like, or better yet what you think you can live with. But you are not familiar with the recipes and do not know for sure if it will be the right choice until you try it. And then if it turns out not to be of your liking, you are left with the knowledge that you picked wrong.
Or if your choice is overruled by your dinner date, the bragging rights that you didn’t.
When I go to cast my ballot, I am petrified. As much as I want to celebrate and exercise my right to a voice, I know that I do not fully understand the options and I have no idea if I am making the right choice.
As much as I try, I do not entirely understand the candidates’ plans enough to know if they will actually work, or truly grasp how the passing of a bill is going affect me and my family. And if one bill passing results in another one that wont, then which one should you fight for in the big picture? Try as I might I cannot grasp the big picture, and everything broken down feels just that; broken.
So, I read the articles. I go to numerous networks to get each take on an issue, and then give up as they grand stand and bash each other back and forth. I try the BBC to get an outside interpretation of just what the hell is going on, but all I am left with is the sense that we truly are falling apart.
What I am learning is I do not trust our media and I do not trust our politicians. I do not trust the way stories are spun to suit political agenda. Case and point: The way a proposed community center that will not be built on Ground Zero and was announced months ago and with little opposition, can suddenly become vilified as The Ground Zero Mosque.
I do not know what to believe or who to believe anymore, and worst of all I have no idea what it will take to fix my country.
And make no mistake, I love my country. I love this land that afforded me the freedom I never even had to earn. Other brave citizens fought and died to give me that right. All I had to do was be born here, and despite the fact that I call myself a Patriot, I know I have taken that privilege for granted.
I am paying more attention and I am trying to learn, but sometimes it is so hard, and sometimes it is so scary. Often I feel that pull to once again shut my eyes and pretend it is all just a bad dream. And this of course, is from the comfort of my warm home; on my own piece of land, filled with all of my possessions; clothing, food, transportation, security, and if I wanted it, a god damn white picket fence out front.
It is the threat of these things, and that of my civil liberty being taken from me that I fear the most. Did you know they are remaking a modern version of Red Dawn? I don’t think I can bear to watch.
Yes, I could shut my eyes, but then I recall that my family consists of two little ones, who spend their days happy and carefree. They have no idea of the horrors that have transpired, or of the mess that they are poised to inherit by people just like me who paid little attention and set up this country to fail. But someday they will learn. I hope they can forgive us.