Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Love America, the Past

A personal quest kind of blog

“At some point … we became a nation of whining, sniveling, complaining, suing, Prozac-gobbling, label-warning, non-spanking, airbag-surrounded, water-conserving, designated-driving, emailing geeks.” (Prioleau Alexander – “You Want Fries with That?”)

I come from a long line of very hard workers – as I am sure most of you are. They raised me believing that nothing is ever achieved without sweat, blood and tears. And most often than not, the government, your company, your rich brother, or just life in general, good ol’ Karma, will rob you of everything you’ve got. And that’s just normal. But no matter the hardships, you worry about yourself, and keep going.

I moved to America, leaving everything I had and knew behind, because I was also raised that in America, things are different. You work hard, and you get to keep most of it (except for the taxes, of course, but they have laws for that!). Injustices are punished and fairness is restored. People are respectful and own their actions.

I was raised to believe that in America all things are possible. I grew up reading the stories of the making of this beautiful nation, stories of freeing of the Old South and of shaping up of the great, big Wild West where people started with nothing but their own bodies and own two hands, and slowly and assiduously, made a life. For them, and their followers.

Back in the day where there was no law, no boundaries, and nothing but willing, hardworking people with a vision. And thus America was built. No complaining about hardships, just a big, wonderful dream of making it. They crossed an ocean, they fought persecution and extreme poverty, diseases unknown, and they made a country. They had will. They had hope. They had drive. They had grit! And amazing things did happen – the civilization we enjoy today is proof of that. That’s the America of my childhood stories. The sense of adventure, and freedom to achieve something lured me in like an iris does a bee!

As they often tell you, once you get closer, the shine seems to fade, however. I sometimes wonder, in my day to day life, when and where did that shine disappear? I am wondering are we truly the followers of such wonderfully driven and resolute people that built this unequal under the sun nation, of freedom, equality and hope?! Where are today’s whiners, and complainers, and weaklings truly coming from? When did apathy replace fortitude?!

Our world today is full of people who are mostly ungrateful, self-entitled, self-absorbed, over-consuming, space-hogging, comfort seekers, who need buttons and “apps” for everything to avoid using a minimum effort for anything. The pride is still there, however, but its roots are gone!

I am still to find the true passion that built this country in our every day life, especially in days like today where this passion is needed. It’s so sad, some days, to watch this! A myth busted is always disappointing, but even more so when that myth was the Bible of your own life. We all complain about too much work and not enough pay, and we too often forget about people who just a couple of hundred of years ago were still tracking across an empty and beautiful land full of nothing but dust, starting farms and building roads with nothing but their own backs! Too much work?!

I hear people every day that that “have to have” comfort, and recognition, and respect, but they show little effort to earn those. The sense of expectation is far bigger than the sense of deserving.

We criticize that the waitress is rude, the internet is too slow, the burger is too dry, the a/c is not cold enough, there is no customer service anymore – and these are all unacceptable, unless – unless – unless – we are in the business of providing these! If we are supposed to provide these for others, all of a sudden, things change. Then we want amendments! “Well, yeah, I talked bad to my customer but my five year old is sick with the flu so I didn’t get much sleep last night” or “I showed up for work every day last month – why didn’t I get a bonus?!”. Or “Oh, yeah, Sir, your internet is slow, but you can’t stream a movie, have 100 tabs open, upload pictures and a movie all at the same time. Sorry.” But this shall not apply to us.

We find such easy excuses when we forget how people before us could not afford them, as their lives depended on their own drive and resolution. They were meant to follow those or perish! How and when did we forget that we actually have to participate in order to reap rewards? That we have to care? That life is hard, but then the pay is grand? We have technology, but the rules of common sense should still apply, don’t you think?!

I think when Bush II got elected, and even worse, re-elected, mediocrity was accepted as the new law of the land. All of a sudden, “life was not that bad for a C grade student” and we could not leave anyone behind! Striving for excellence and trying harder, staples that built America, were never to return as part of the equation of making an American. Excuses flourished. “Good try” replaced “good job” at every level of society. And “good try” was good enough.

There is no accountability anymore. We sue the city because they don’t build fences around rivers, so our kids won’t drown. We come on the radio and declare: “Well, if society wants me to be skinny, they need to provide me with the tools to know what I am eating (about putting calories and fat content on menus nationwide) so I can be skinny”. Really? Seriously? You should have called us first, before your first bite – we would have clued you in! But would you have listened? There are always choices – and today, it’s hip to make the wrong ones and then find a scapegoat to sue.

The decay you see in this society is visible, to me at any level. Our teens might not know who Dostoyevsky, or Cezanne were. Or even Fitzgerald or Frost. But virtually every one of them misses life going by because their heads are buried in a smart phone with a thousand apps doing absolutely nothing, at all times. If I thought finding humor in Jackass was bad, more recently, our society started finding humor in “the human centipede” – and that says enough!

Where I come from we say that one can become weary of “too much good”, and I think that’s what happened to our country. Except for the blue collar worker, or the under minimum wage worker at WalMart, we are all becoming weary of too much good – and the things that “matter” to today’s world are frightening and embarrassing.

Whatever happened to the dream I had of America? A land where everyone was free, happy, resourceful, intelligent, with endurance and drive and worked towards something bigger and better than just shining their navel?!

I talk with friends and family from other cultures and this new era of America is a laughing stock for everyone out there. We boast loud and clear that we don’t need to fix out health system, because we don’t want to lose access to our medicine which is the “best in the world”, and yet I was given the wrong treatment for a sinus infection! And the misdiagnoses, inflated prices, poor paperwork, unresponsiveness, lack of care abound in every family I know!

We have no interest in culture, no manners, our political system is just as bad as everyone else’s out there, and yet we not only don’t think we should be the ones to fix it, but we emptily demand the respect of everyone else in the world, forgetting that respect is earned and there is no kind of real, worthwhile leadership other than that by example. We still clench our fist across our heart and declare ourselves patriots on July 4th. Our pride grows inversely proportional to our resourcefulness and involvement.

I fear some days that all this Americanism is contagious and I am becoming more American than I ever wanted to be. But the choice is to be a cynic – and I am not sure what’s worse.

I still love America, and I am still happy and grateful that I am one of her citizens. But, as a true Romanian passeiste, I love the past more. I also love it because it still allows the freedom for every one of us to be whoever we are, regardless of what’s going on around us. For now. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a chance not to forget my own past.

I stepped off the box, but if I could make one more suggestion: grab a copy of the “Fries” book quoted above! It will open your eyes to a whole new world. The world you are living in today.

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