The Soul of our Country

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Tomorrow is Election Day in our country. I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t broken out in a rash by now. This has been the longest two years for our country. I didn’t think this day would get here. I also hoped it wouldn’t take 24 months for a referendum of sorts on our current administration, but here we are.

It appears to me that voter registration is up, the number of those who voted early is up, the number of young people who otherwise sit out elections but are planning to vote this time is up, and the disgust level with politicians is also up. I hope this bodes well for our democratic process but I’ve gotten my hopes up before, two years ago to be exact.

I don’t know what I can say here about my disgust with the direction Donald Trump has taken our country that hasn’t already been said by so many others more eloquent than me. I can only hope that a majority of Americans feel the same way.

These last few days I’ve seen many posts by people who plan to vote a straight Democratic ticket for the first time in their life. I don’t know if that’s because more people plan to do it or I’ve blocked out the people who wouldn’t dare.

Part of me wishes a “blue wave”, the likes we’ve never seen before, would sweep this country tomorrow but I honestly don’t know. The likelihood of Russian interference in this election is pretty high, and our current administration knows that it is in their favor to allow it to happen. Vladimir Putin loves to sow discord throughout the world so we play a little less attention to what he does. His evil ambition knows no limits.

Very few things actually scare me. Losing one or more of my children? Check. Losing my health, my mobility or my wits? Check. Dying in a plane crash? Check. Being on the receiving end of a crazed, angry right-winger with a gun? Check.

That last one wasn’t even a remote possibility until recently but it’s pretty clear that America is doing a great job of creating home-grown terrorists using the same tactics of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Find a bunch of ignorant (white) men with nothing better going for them, instill fear in them over all they think they will lose, desensitize them from placing any value on the lives of others, give them weapons, and convince them they’ll be martyrs for the cause.

Really. It’s the exact same playbook. It works.

The biggest threat to Americans is angry, ignorant, white American men with guns.

A caravan of Central Americans 800 miles from our southern border, risking all to flee violence doesn’t scare me. Gay men and lesbian women wanting to love and marry the person of their choice doesn’t scare me. Anybody with a different religion than mine living peacefully and making a successful living in our country doesn’t scare me. People from the Middle East wanting to flee violence in their own country and make it here, even despite the mistrust so many Americans have against them doesn’t scare me. Anyone wanting to live in peace is ok by me. And for those coming from outside of our country, we have checks and controls in place to vet them and their intentions. Those processes work.

My fellow Americans are beginning to scare me, though. Their ignorance, apathy, and greed scare me. Trump scares, horrifies, and disgusts me. Republicans in office? They scare the bejesus outta me. Trump and anyone who refuses to renounce him have sold their souls to the devil, in ignorance, fear, greed, or all of the above. It has become that binary, that black and white, for me.

This election is a fight for the soul of our country, a reckoning on a massive scale. I don’t know which way the United States will go. I hope we lean toward peace, love, tolerance, and progress, but I really don’t know what the soul of this country is anymore.

Holding my breath, even though everybody knows it’s better to breathe instead.

PS – still holding.

Image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Not Squirrel Hill

Stronger Than HateA friend posted on Facebook yesterday afternoon about an active shooter in Pittsburgh. I quickly learned that a gunman had opened fire on the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

No. Please, no. Not Squirrel Hill.

Squirrel Hill is where I bought my first house as a single woman in my late 20s.

Yes, it is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. You would often see whole families walking together to worship on Saturday. I thought that was incredibly cool. A pedestrian, family-friendly neighborhood. A tree-lined, quiet, peaceful neighborhood of well-kept houses, with people pushing baby strollers, holding hands with each other, or walking their dog. You always saw people milling about.

But what really drew me to Squirrel Hill was how vibrant the community was…its little downtown area bustling with cafes, ice creameries, theatres, bookshops, boutiques, coffee shops, and the like. It was and still is incredibly eclectic. People of all faith and ethnicity live there in peace. My husband, who grew up in Utah, would sometimes shop at the Giant Eagle grocery store in his Birkenstocks and Hawaiian “lava lava” as mother called it, essentially a long skirt. No one batted an eye. This was nearly 20 years ago.  This was the same Giant Eagle where a long-haired hippie-looking violinist would play classical music on the sidewalk as you shopped. We hired her to serenade us and our guests as we stepped outside of the church after our wedding.

Squirrel Hill

Yep, you could walk the streets of Squirrel Hill any time day or night and feel perfectly safe. It was the first time in my life I felt I had come “home”. Man, I loved that community.

My love for that neighborhood and for Pittsburgh as a whole go hand-in-hand. For years I dreamed of moving back to that city and it was because of this funky, cozy little bustling community of friendly people, a hop, skip, and jump from downtown. Ok, that and my lifelong love of the Steelers.

Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) literally lived in Schenley Park, the neighborhood next to Squirrel Hill. His kindness and gentleness wasn’t a fluke. It seemed to me like everyone was that kind. Everyone was your neighbor.

To hear that 11 people were gunned down in Squirrel Hill yesterday, innocent lives who gathered for worship, is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t want this incident to define Squirrel Hill. I don’t want hate to define America. I’m sick of this happening.

I even had a Jewish friend of mine mark herself as “safe” on Facebook. I can’t believe this incident touches people I know. Frankly it doesn’t matter if it does or if it doesn’t: violence of this kind is abhorrent.

How can people be so incredibly fearful of and hate people they don’t know? How could this deranged human think it was plausible to connect the dots between peaceful Jews in going about their day in Pittsburgh and a “caravan” of Central Americans headed north at the Mexico/Guatemala border seeking asylum from violence themselves as a threat to himself or other Americans?

This gunman: did he feel like a man, a “real American”, gunning down 97-year-old Rose Mallinger  with his AK-15 assault rifle? These citizens ranged in age from their early 50s to 80s with Rose being the oldest. What a pitiful human this guy, needing to feel superior using an assault rifle to kill elderly people gathered to pray.

I’m tired of people saying that gun control won’t help. If it has any chance of stopping future home-grown terrorists by making it harder for them to get a gun they don’t already own, then let’s do it.

I just don’t understand the hate. I am stunned by Americans who take issue with immigrants and those who seek asylum. Americans who criticize or hate somehow think they’re special because they or their ancestors got here first. As I shared with some friends recently, 100+ years ago, the Irish, Poles, Italians, and Slavs were despised, spat upon, and discriminated against but now we wouldn’t bat an eye hanging with someone with that ethnic background today.  Today, Blacks, Jews, Arabs, and Hispanics are hated with slightly more tolerance for Asians. The fact is virtually every single one of us is the descendant of immigrant or is one.

What will it take? Alien invasion for us to realize we are one and the same?

The vast majority of people who come to or live in this country want to live in peace. Why can’t we just live in peace? What will it take to reverse the crazy?

God rest the departed souls who lived in peace as my neighbors once upon a time. God comfort those they leave behind. God help us all.

Me, March 1996, on the front porch of house I just bought by myself