I've lived in this country for a long time. When I was born we were about as far away from the Civil War as we are today from World War II. So a while back, but not ancient history.
I think about the additions and subtractions of years a lot when I seek a lens to bring focus to the present. How do we measure our progress, our history, and our failings?
We are a nation of flux, of waves, of ever-shifting currents. Let’s start with our population. Most citizens of the United States today can trace their ancestors’ arrivals back only a few generations, if that. There can be great discrepancies between when ancestors arrived from different sides of the family. We mix in this country in ways that churn our own identities. Even so, it is a cruel irony that many of those with the longest claims to the land, the Native Peoples, and those who arrived shackled, pillaged, and raped from their homelands, have suffered the greatest injustices of this nation. Permanence doesn’t equal justice.
Our laws and customs are also ones of great upheavals. We like to think of the norms of our democracy as edifices. Far from it. We say these were the way things were, not quite adequately remembering what times past were truly like. I have witnessed far more change than I can fully comprehend, let alone relate to you with any semblance of coherence. It is ever-present, and ever-shifting. And it is accelerating.
Very little about what life was like when I was growing up remains intact. It is easy to focus on technology. I do video calls on my telephone with distant friends, even as I remember party lines when I was a child. (For those unfamiliar with the term, look it up. It wasn’t a party.) But the social changes are even more profound.
I have witnessed broad recognition of systemic biases, injustices, and cruelties. But a lot of the necessary progress we need to make on race, LGBTQ rights, the environment, as well as many other issues, remains maddeningly elusive. For many in this country this lack of progress harms and even kills. We take steps forward and backward.
The Greek philosopher Plato quoted one of his predecessors Heraclitus: “all things pass and nothing stays,” and “you could not step twice into the same river.”
As an avid fisherman, I know the truth of those words. It is one of the joys of the pastime. Even as I have returned to a favorite bend in a favorite river, even though I know the way by heart, even if I had just been there the day before, each moment is different. The sky. The smells. The sounds. The light. The breeze. And of course the will of the fish.
We have just lived through an administration that sloganeered about going backwards to when America was “great.” Time travel is of course impossible. But the era they seek to return to was not one of unadulterated greatness. It was one of systemic injustices and white supremacy.
We still live with the echoes of that era, of our past. The currents that haven’t changed in our country undermine our democracy. But we must all approach the present with humility.
Things can change. They will change. It can be for the better. And for the worse. But what I have also learned is that change need not be a passive exercise. From climate change to changing and expanding the rights and democratic values of our nation, we can all play a role. Rather than frighten us, change can be a powerful inspiration for hope.
There is so much about our nation in need of change that it can be overwhelming. But another lesson I have learned is that even small acts of change can add up. One of our hopes for the Steady newsletter is that it can bring together a community that rallyies around a constructive spirit of change. So perhaps we can all pledge today to endeavor this week to do something that we believe will change our neighborhood, our community, our city or town, and thus our nation and our larger world, for the better. Change need not be destructive. It can be just what we need to put us on a more peaceful, inclusive, and productive path into the future.
If you are so inclined, please consider sharing, in the comments section below, ideas for how we can join together to make a positive change..