Last Monday morning, Presidents Day, I found myself thinking about the contentious muddle in which our nation currently is mired — I worried that we’ll never find our way out of it. This concern dampened the joy I usually find in breakfast, but I comforted myself by remembering that we survived the ‘60s.
A high school junior, busy with school, friends and part-time jobs, I saw the USA as a pleasant, mostly peaceful place in 1960. I thought the new president quite dashing, approved the selection of “Ben-Hur” as the best movie of the year and cheered when the US hockey team won an Olympic gold medal for the first time.
Shielded by rose-colored glasses, I ignored our country’s looming problems.
But, as the decade progressed, and I worked my way through college, my obliviousness melted away like soft-serve ice cream on a hot day.
The invasion of the Bay of Pigs failed, the Berlin Wall went up and the first US soldiers began to die in Vietnam.
Soon, even Chubby Checker dancing “The Twist” and John Glenn orbiting the earth couldn’t camouflage the reality and immensity of the racial conflicts in the South and the assassination of the young president who looked like a movie star.
Cities burned, Vietnam escalated, assassinations continued, protesters raged on campuses and Charles Manson spread evil. I called home, my safety zone, and learned that my mother also feared the United States could not survive the multitude of gut-wrenching problems that divided its populace.
But it did.
As I reflect on the current condition of our country and my vivid recollections of the ‘60s, I realize that every generation has faced seemingly insurmountable problems, that leaders long have been at odds about how to solve them and that our elected officials are human — and too often act like it.
I sometimes wonder how citizens of the past handled the crises of their time.
Did they feel helpless, wonder about the sanity of their leaders who couldn’t seem to accomplish anything, and express astonishment or anger when their neighbors didn’t agree with them? Did they talk about the poor work ethic of the young; predict the decline of our civilization; and complain about their aching feet, their bosses and their taxes?
Did they write letters to one another saying, “This is hopeless. What’s to become of us?” and go to bed fretting about the world their children would inherit?
As the lengthy battle over the ratification of the Constitution of the United States stretched out for more than two years, a Civil War sent our young men to fight each other and die, a depression spread a blight across the land, and World War II erupted like the atomic bombs that ended it, did our elected leaders despair? Did they go to bed weary, tired of one another’s intransigence, and telling their spouses they didn’t know what could be done?
But still our nation survived.
As citizens of the United States of America, a nation of many years, we can describe our wounds and trace our scars, think previous decades had it better, react with disbelief when others disagree with us, rail against our political opponents, blame our troubles on one another — but in the end we still are us.
We stick with it. And although it may take too long, our better natures ultimately prevail, and we find a way.
Our nation survives. We survive. Our children will survive.
And believing that, I continue to be a proud and positive citizen of the United States of America.
Janet also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.