Imaginations of America

Rain taps our open bedroom window as the thunderstorm begins. In the dark, I run my hand over my taut belly that moves lazily as the baby within strains and settles. My own sleep lingers at the far edge of this wave of insomnia. For now, my wakefulness feels welcome; the weather patterns are a break in the silence of early morning. I am still reveling in yesterday's glimpse of springtime at February's close - warm air, blue sky, bodies everywhere seeking healing winter sunshine. Brave crocus blossoms and buds tempted me with their promise that this season is ending and a new one will soon begin. I feel a longing for brighter days and for the birth of my second boy. But we must still endure March's turmoil and April's rains to find rightful delight in May's blooms, made more beautiful by the aeons-old natural progress through gray months. As I lie still, I feel the breeze from outside turn colder.

Someone recently remarked about the current U.S. political climate, "I'm starting to think that this is the last season of America and the writers are just going nuts." Whether to laugh or cry at this comment, or to become angry or apathetic at its truth, seems a far more complex dilemma than realities publicly entertained by politicians. I find myself lost in a sea of superficial sentiments where the lives and deaths of millions of vulnerable people in this country and billions of people worldwide are reduced to platforms and propaganda, if they are regarded at all. Among those in power, I hear little inspiration or hopeful promise, see no healing champions, to truly make America great again. A season of darkness and chaos reigns in my psyche as I search for direction. Where should I start to scratch the ground to usher in a spring for our collective moral soul?

"Hearts on Fire" by Molly Costello
Juvenal, a satirical poet writing in Rome around 100 CE, commented on his country's politics, "Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses." Consumption mentality, lack of education on civic duties and rights and processes, divisive atmospheres that deter dialogue, enough shallow reporting to leave us thinking we are informed on "news": with these distractions we become engorged, transfixed. We succumb to alluring pleasures cloaked as revolutionary political talk. The clouds gather and darken overhead but we never look up to see what causes the thunder, or down at the pooling waters at our feet. No matter where on the political spectrum we stand, we are drowning together, too busy bickering to build an arc.

But this flooding, barren terrain is not a new landscape. The words of Langston Hughes, who wrote of the United States in 1935, echo the truth to which some of us may just now be waking:

"O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

"A Power of My Own" by Molly Costello
"...O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!"

In my final trimester of pregnancy, physical marks greet me with the reminder that the trajectory of particular journeys is understood, is revisited again and again, and is nevertheless a surprise and challenge. My stomach is surpassing its old capacity: this week I noticed new, pink marks against the faint paths of formerly stretched skin. I am only now seeing them, but they have been forming ever since I conceived. These red streaks are as inevitable as the at-times aloof certainty that this child will truly one day emerge Earthside. Bringing him to birth means I have to be reshaped - and that the process, though long and demanding, will end...or, perhaps, just change.

An anthropomorphic image of our country may be conjured in our collective consciousness as a strapping young man, white and wealthy and war-ready, independent and imperial and immortal. These days, however, I envision America as a dark woman standing in labor, innumerable forces screaming for her to lie on her back. She has been crying out for centuries through her children who are oppressed and killed. She is longing for us to see her in the hills and valleys, marching in the streets and crossing fences, working to shatter the frozen, metallic face of Lady Liberty and emerge as Mother Freedom. "On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing," says Arundhati Roy.

"Inexplicably Interwoven" by Molly Costello
But we do not like for her to breathe. We resist seeing images of women giving birth or noticing them feeding babies at their breasts but demonize them for giving up their children. We spend energy debating what constitutes a person instead of acknowledging the infinite ways we have desecrated our human heritage or working to heal the harm. We condemn saying loudly, in public, "Black Lives Matter" or standing next to our Muslim neighbors. We assert that common images of relationship and family and community are the only possibilities. We do not believe our lives of excess and comfort are correlated to or causal of child labor, sex slavery, or war. We call what has been hidden from our sight, "new." The unknown author of the ancient text Ecclesiastes writes,

"What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them."

Instead of allowing this context to humble us into reverence for the complexity of our small lives, we fly our hubris patriotically like flags. We become violent in our fear when we are told the stories that have survived with resilience despite our ignorance. Sometimes they are even our stories, but we interpret them as foreign threats. "How could we ever have been so blind?" The question rings in vengeance, not lament. Losing confidence in our way - the way given to us - poses the risk of losing any way at all. The populace steels in fear, chooses its commanders, rallies its armies to defend what never was. War games and fairy tales, panem et circenses: these parades of powerful ignorance perpetuate the winter of our country's imagination.

How do we reconcile the nations within our nation? Can we? The word "country" derives from the root word that means, "counter to - in opposition against." Are we courageous enough to integrate ourselves? Like labor pains, the seismic shift from the embryonic America to one with its unsure feet touching the ground of what is real will happen suddenly. It has been beginning since the beginning. There will come a time we can no longer live as a country without dying. The truth will not set us free until we can set free the truth from its small womb. The secret will be revealed: all birth is death, and all death is rebirth.

"So Much a Part of Each Other" by Molly Costello
The U.S. motto states, "E pluribus unum" - out of many, one. My state motto declares, "United we stand, divided we fall." We can begin to live into this potential by being still and listening carefully, especially to those who have been silenced. This will take generations of teaching and learning how to listen. We can begin to hear the sacred solidarity reverberating in each life: the threads of love for our children, the desire to do meaningful work, the hope for peace and security. This work requires us to lay our old visions to rest so that our common yearnings can resurrect in new structures and systems reinforced by what we share, not what we withhold. We can attend to the signs of life ever-emerging: children telling us who we are meant to be, young people with fresh idealism in fervent action, families living in healthy, respectful spaces, elders treasuring the fruits of relationships and work that honored their dignity, business and politics centered on care and community. These have always been and can be - rather than profit, materialism, militarism, or belligerent dogma, we can decide to pay attention to, value, and work for Freedom.

In uniting the nations within this nation, our anthem could become "America the Beautiful," or this Unitarian Universalist hymn with lyrics written in the time between the World Wars by Lloyd Stone when he was a 22-year-old man:

by Molly Costello
"This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,

a song of peace for their land and for mine."

A new America can break through like sunshine that was always there, suppressed in the places and people we have most marginalized and neglected. We could warm our bodies and enlighten our spirits by the rays of the dreams we have carried through illusions of separateness. We can see the abundance at our feet. We can tear down our walls and build big, long tables at which all are welcome. Our children may inherit a land to tend with love and joy; their caretakers may breathe deeply the clean air ushered in by generations and winds of change.

In the dark, my limbs curl around the little boy nestled against his sibling in my belly. The baby kicks out to him gently. My husband reaches to touch his children, his partner, and form a human seed in our quiet bed of rest. The rain slows and stops - the sounds of night become birdsong of morning. Our breathing begins to sync in a common rhythm. We slip for a little longer into the dream realm, leaving our entwined bodies for a plane of imagination, a place where we dance as spirits of tomorrow over frequency fields of possibility, of peace.