I’ve seen how maple syrup gets pure in a hot basin in a cold room, and how pure American art used to be in the days of Rockwell, and also how to make a million pints of relatively expensive premium ice cream in 3 or 4 days, while sounding like a bunch of hippies who live out of a van. I’ve tasted B&J’s ‘Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz’, which was taken off the market (a “graveyard flavor”), but can still be gotten at the Waterbury plant (making it a “zombie flavor”), and which, if I am ever famous, I would like renamed after me.
I’ve dialed through a radio with 500 channels broadcasting from space and found nothing I hadn’t heard before, except for the very funny Jeff Foxworthy and also Howard Stern settling a dispute between 2 co-workers over a baby gift, a segment so petty and appalling, I felt utterly desolate on a jammed highway.
On the other hand, I’ve seen Vermont’s mountains and trees and New Hampshire’s waterways, the only car for miles, and felt part of something much larger, wishing I could borrow just a teeny drop of lush natural treasure for the Middle East. Would *that* bring peace, some more hydration? Pliant wood instead of hot sand and hard stone?
I’ve thought, often, of the Native Americans who used to live here, before the Founding Fathers decided to Live Free or Die.
What I didn’t see: a freedom flotilla of canoes on the Merrimack River sponsored by the Iroquois-Agawam Tribal Alliance and the Free New England movement. (It is certainly worth taking back, but something tells me the Colonialists did a fairly thorough job killing off or chasing West and South the aforementioned claimants. In any event, there’s so much American history here by now, so much good that Americans have built with sweat and tears, it seems a moot point. No?)
I’ve watched my exhausted husband circle the very seat of freedom’s history, Boston, on a thick arterial beltway in the dark at the instruction of an understandably confused GPS (which he always forgave, but did change the voice and accent to restore trust.) I’ve seen Harvard’s rowing team in late afternoon on the Charles, and its students playing a game of catch in the Square. But having somehow expected most of the city to be like that – full of the future’s leaders jogging over footbridges and reading books under trees – and receiving instead a seedy urban area only surrounded by history and a harbor and a renowned university – I was reminded of Baltimore, where I grew up, home to the national anthem and a much better aquarium. A woman cleaning the bloody face and hands of a post-brawl man in the early hours at Boston Common, on the steps under the Soldiers and Sailors monument, made my 4 year old curious, but he had forgotten about it by the time we got to climbing the old cannon at the Esplanade. (Cannons were how the freedom to sleep in the park got to Boston and Baltimore.)
At any rate, I’ve seen that the birthplaces of America eventually yield to the natural and often cruel reality of raising a nation which governs itself, and sometimes leaves people behind. How do you say “Good Luck and Hard Work and Providence” in Latin? Maybe a more accurate motto than Veritas (Truth) for good old Harvard, seeing as the crybabies of history and society have been holding that noble word hostage since before I was born, and also, sometimes the truth sucks, and all that’s left to grasp at is a bit of prayer, a bit of charity, and a tremendous amount of effort.
I’ve watched my kids consume day-glow Slurpies in the sleet, quietly passing the giant tub of freezing calories back and forth in their seats, in a brothers’ pact to secure sugar through peace and quiet. This, perhaps, they learned from the indigenous peoples of the region, whose souls whisper in the magnificent trees. (Speaking of whom…Here’s what America was up to in 1838, 62 years after *its* inception.)
I’ve bought tax-free hooch in New Hampshire – more freedom – in the middle of a windstorm, and seen New York empty into Connecticut for the weekend, as the brilliant orange sun was sinking on a Friday afternoon, way too close to Shabbat.
I’ve remembered how much I actually loathe shopping, but been charmed by an Irish Clinique lady, Sweet Mary of the Palisades, who made me a reluctant member of the Macy’s family with nothing more than magic anti-aging lotion. This was just after my very intelligent husband, an attorney who researches everything in advance of consumption, witnessed a toy demonstration in Toys R Us Times Square, where a foam disc with a mini buzzing motor flew like a *real spaceship*, and immediately convinced our 6 year old that this was the purchase of a lifetime. Needless to say, it lies grounded in the playroom with a fatally flawed propeller.
Freedom is good to the sellers of impossible items, which themselves are very far from free. More Latin: Caveat Emptor. (A Nerf gun, on the other hand, is the best toy you will ever buy anyone with XY chromosomes, at any point at all during their development. There is nothing we can do about it: Men are aggressive by nature. Buy the extra foam dart pack and line up some plastic cups in a pyramid.)
I’ve seen how America asks you to gather lots of stuff, and how there is so much room to keep it and so many ways to buy it comfortably that there is no reason not to, and then to talk about the stuff and about getting more and more stuff. And when you are religious, how the religion can become about the stuff: the gifts, the parties, the religious symbols, the clothes!, the décor!, and my sweet Lord, the *food*. The corn syrup oozing through the veins of the country until, for so much sweetness, they can almost not stand up.
I’ve understood on my return home that Israel does not so much ask you to fill it with stuff, as to fill yourself with *it*, a considerably different enterprise that maybe only the “Indians” would understand. It also asks you to be comfortable being self-reliant, and isolated, and judged, and unforgiven, which I suppose many Americans feel in an individual sense in suburbia, if they are different, or in the city, where your neighbors most probably don’t know your name.
It asks you to take a long view of history, longer than 62 years back, and longer than 62 years forward. In thousands of years of the recorded saga of mankind, those who survive are those who work hardest to positively advance humankind, to build society up, physically and spiritually. That there is usually killing in the process is a very unfortunate side effect, stemming mostly from the fact that men have written history until like 10 minutes ago, and that was the quickest way to get it done before dinner, and there were no plastic guns with foam bullets instead.
Our new, process-oriented, feminized world should theoretically demand that progress doesn’t require death or disenfranchisement anymore, except that now there is a tribe of many who do not wish to move forwards but backwards, way back into the darkness to the time before Columbus also discovered he was lost not too far from Boston. Keeping the world from moving backwards will mean more killing, to be sure.
Another thing I haven’t seen: Anywhere on earth that is beyond reproach, guiltless or historically pristine, except for the 4 am snow in Vermont, which, due to the hard work and foresight of the Stowe municipality, was not allowed to pile up on the roads, only, marvelously, on the grass and trees. Completely perfect.
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