The lyric that is haunting these red white and blue days is from a Simon and Garfunkel song that could be a national anthem. The lyric is “….all gone to look for America.” America is a search you can arrive to or leave for. The essence and definition of America is elusive and varied but the pursuits America allows – the lessons learned as you comb all the aspects and promise of this Utopian innovation - is the point. Immigrants arrive and expatriates leave but all come and go to look for America.
Some resident Americans were surprised recently that many in the international community had doubts about the compromised condition of the great adventure of America. It had been a country in love with redemption. It had turned wretched and disenfranchised citizens of the world into the creators and inventors of new epochs. Individuals, by virtue of talent and passion, redefined the notion of royalty and birthright. That has been America and that is what all eyes have been on for two hundred years.
As with all adventures there are dark linings to be sure. But the voices of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and King among many other original voices trumped and challenged those dark linings. The American voices that need to challenge us are now muffled and mocked. There is the insidious white noise of a self-interested media that gets its marching orders from the same dark linings that need to be challenged. It also has a lot of product to push toward our patriotic consumption. And there are those Americans who wonder if there are other patriotic gestures we can try besides consumption.
So that lyric keeps playing – “to look for America.” It’s provocative and enigmatic and accurate. America invites and allows an individual to search – to be bold – and to be wrong. In being wrong or in being at odds with the mainstream there is a great opportunity to discover avenues of evolution. To block the blessed mess of the free trade of ideas and rhetoric is un-American. To see boundaries as hurdles that challenge the intellectual and spiritual muscularity of the citizens that are contained by those boundaries, is the nucleus of America. Mess with that DNA and you’ve lost the species that the world has been evolving to for centuries. And the gifts America has to offer are just starting.
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American artists, performers and inventors launch themselves from a tradition of citizens un-intimidated by uncharted waters. Uncharted waters are what irrigated the foundation of America. (It’s ironic that America got its name from a man who mapped the borders of the Western continents.) But the search for America is the search for what’s next. It’s the energy of swimming to the curve of a peaking wave. To freeze that urge – to stop the desire to look for America and to have it become a static monolithic agreeable drug is the opposite of American patriotism. To tame the citizens and to harness them with propaganda and mind-numbing bromides and platitudes is the great act of treason. In other words, Lynne Cheney should be brought in for questioning – George should be put under tight surveillance – and John Ashcroft needs to apply for citizenship.
Our present national anthem is hard to sing – it has rockets glaring and bombs bursting in air - but the last climactic line “land of the free and the home of the brave” is worth looking at in light of the unofficial national anthem’s suggestion: “Land of the free” meaning we are free to – obey – shop – think – criticize – protest –leave – return – create - invent – to name a few choices. “Home of the brave” - brave meaning we will fight? – We will fly bombers? We will drop bombs? Or brave meaning to dare – to forge new realities – to risk failure – to risk rejection – to risk peace - to say the unpopular thing – to proclaim the country you want to participate in – brave enough to reject the simplistic slogans that we are fed intravenously and therefore brave enough – and free enough - to look for America.