Tuesday, July 24, 2007

America is driven, but the world questions our destination

The following is an article that appeared in our local paper several months ago. It has been hanging on my fridge and I read it quite often. I would like to share it with the rest of you.

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Written by Todd South

I feel most like an American while driving. The movement mimics my country's attitude.

Each year, things go faster. There's always something more important to do, somewhere more important to go.

Where we're going, why are we going there so fast? What are we missing along the way?

That's the image I think the rest of the world has of us. Still moving but not going anywhere.

I'm not going to share patriotic writing that rallied the troops and citizens. The author who best tells the story of Americans wasn't too popular in his own time.

Henry David Thoreau was a bit of an outsider. He also didn't care much for any transportation outside of his own two feet.

The American I love is the nation of outsiders, nonconformists, and dreamers because America, at its core, is about possibility.

The work that illustrates this best is "Walden." Thoreau stepped away from the bustling towns of 19th-centruy Massachusetts and found solitude in the woods.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life," Thoreau tells readers, "and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

In his cabin, he laid out thoughts that struck to the heart of what a person's life should be about. He questioned the status quo and challenged readers to examine what they considered commonplace.

For generations, we have been put to sleep by promises of comfort and security. While leading the world in material development, we have neglected our character development. Thoreau said, "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation."

Our nation is leading its own life of quiet desperation, and we don't even realize it. Much of the world doesn't like American now.

Like our country, I know what that feels like. I served my country as a US Marine Corps sergeant in 2003 in Iraq. I was my comanding officer's driver. I drove onto and off a ship. I drove through camps and cities. Across borders and through deserts I drove. I passed camels and men who walked for days to reach a tent they called home.

I drove around bombed-out-buildings and through hawklike stares of dark men who hated me.

Once I returned home, people asked me about Iraq. I can't say too much I saw it from behind a steering wheel. But I've seen most of America from behind a steering wheel, too, always going somewhere, never really in a place, just passing through.

In Iraq, I was insulated from the people we were liberating by a thin sheet of glass and a plastic door. The Humvee I drove stood out as the only patch of green ina whirlwind of hot, brown sand and an impossibly blue sky. But the dirty glass and green plastic door were enough to divide liberated and liberators, as our president called us.

Most Americans I see are a bit more comfortable in air-conditioned, cushioned-seated cocoons rolling through cities and across this land, but they're still cut off.

If we listened to Thoreau, we might question our push forward, our need for more and more and more. We might recognize that the hope with which we once inspired other nations is now seen as sheer greed.

We might see that showcasing giant personal vehicles, immense wardrobes and eating contests to the world does not arouse others to follow our example.

In "Walden," Thoreau advocates a maxim that holds true still: simplify, simplify, simplify! He returns to the idea that people should question what they do and why they do it.

I believe we could once again lead the world through our actions and not just our spending. But this can happen only by looking inward and taking full account of our culture and what this nation is really about.

Self-determination and sacrifice, leading a deliberate life - these are the ideals that show what America was once and still wants to emulate.

If we showed the world these core principles of what America is beneath all the surface garbage we've built over generations, then others would again follow our lead.

3 comments:

Heather said...

How thought provoking! Thanks for sharing!!! :) Enjoy your camping trip!!

tribalmama said...

Wonderful!!! I need to actually read _Walden_, and many others classics, I'm sure. Especially written by those non-conformists! I'm sure they'd speak to me in many ways!

Ren said...

I do so love Thoreau, though he's too much of a purist for me.

I think you should watch a video that is along the same thought-line. I really enjoyed it today and tried to post it at my blog. It has yet to show up.

Go check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4