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September 6, 2018

America, America

by Seijaku Roshi

I find myself reminiscing of days gone by, melancholy for a time when the world I’ve known in my heart, was so much different.

The words of our forefather’s and mother’s continue to haunt me, as they do millions of Americans: “We the People.” “E Pluribus Unum.” “With Liberty (Freedom) and Justice (Equality) for all.” “Like an anthem in my heart,” they continue to orchestrate a “vision for the world,” a dream of days go by, “which either happened or not, and if not, “Why Not?”, interrupting and disrupting the world and todays current events.

Whether on a military battlefield; in the workplace, at home, in corporate America; whether in the Halls of Congress, or in our streets and communities, or in our very hearts, Americans continue to fight what I believe St. Paul referred to as, “The Good Fight”. We continue to struggle, whether we realize it or not, with fundamental questions about life, “Who Am I?” “What Am I?” “Where do I belong?” Questions which have haunted mankind since the dawn of humanity. Questions which I believe, and I do with all my heart that, until fully resolved individually and collectively, we will never see, “Peace on Earth,” or, “Good Will toward men, women, children, the elderly, the youth, the sick, the poor, the wealthy, white or colored skin persons, Republicans or Democrats, Native citizens or Immigrants – anywhere.”

I long for days gone by when a “Man or a Woman’s Word was their Bond.” When “Virtue” mattered, not for Its idealistic value but rather for the self-evident reasons the absence of which, continues to diminish each of us and, leave us in the chaos and uncertainty, we witness these days in, and days out. When the value of another person or relationship, was not based on the “beauty of that person’s skin,” neither their religious or political affiliation; but rather on a their trustworthiness, reliability, their sense of personal integrity and global responsibility; the courage which they displayed to meet life’s challenges head on, no matter the circumstance or situation, or the price. A time when “Character” mattered. 

My Mother and Father came out of “The Great Generation,” a time when “character did matter”. While America had yet to achieve the fullness of Its potential “Greatness,” waiting yet to be fully realized, it came pretty close during that time. While “systemic maturity” continued to be very slow-moving; in my neighborhood, if you were hungry, thirsty, or needing almost anything for you or your family, as long as you were known for your hard work, honesty, and appreciated a friend’s hand, there was food and drink, and support to be found, no matter the color of your skin, the size of your bank account, or your religious or political affiliations. 

I will never forget coming home from school one day, when I received my first conscious lesson about “charity,” and “compassion”. There were “two” pots of “gravy” on the stove. We always expected one for dinner, but here they were, “two”. After getting my hand, gripping a slice of bread, smacked by my Mother,  she explained that Mr. Perlstein lost his job and she would need me to bring this pot, along with bags of pasta and bread to them. If you were hungry there was food, thirsty there was drink, naked there were “let me downs” to be shared. A time when “Character mattered,” when “People mattered!”

Now don’t get me wrong. I lived in a neighborhood where Jew and Catholic, white and black, blue-collar and white-collar neighbors lived side-by-side. We knew each other and were there when we needed to be, for each other. Where children played in the back ally ways and driveways together, sat out on the front stoops of their homes on hot summer nights, sharing a cigarette or a beer, but, you did not go to “their” church, if they were not “Catholic”; certainly never their “Synagogue,” and we had no idea what a “Mosk” was, let alone a “Buddhist”. Catholics dated Catholics, Jews dated Jews, Blacks stayed with Blacks, Blue collar girls dated their counterparts, while white collar workers were, “moving on up” leaving you behind. But, in some other way none of that mattered because what everyone had in common was “fear of the unknown” and a sense that we all were in this great ship of life together. Something I believe modern technology as well as political tribalism is depriving modern Americans and, if left unchecked, we are all going to drown in the great ocean of loneliness together.

I will not pretend I know the answer for all of us. Perhaps there isn’t any. I really don’t know for sure. What I do know is that when I reminisce and find my self melancholy for “One Nation,” a “Village,” or my Mother’s meatballs, I am hopeful that somehow by some mysterious way, we will find our way back to each other, and that “shining city on the hill” will burn brightly with the colors of a rainbow.

Won’t you consider joining me in lighting that fire?

I love you,

Seijaku Roshi

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