We Imagine Ourselves Great

Digital illo from a photo: MonumentHow did We Get Here?

In our dreams, we were hip-deep in cotton picked by willing, happy, high-paid underlings and we smiled with satisfied benevolence

We were standing in the shade of magnolias and wearing our widest-brimmed Sunday hats and crisp seersucker and poplin even on Tuesday

We nibbled tiny toast points dabbed with pimiento cheese while a string quartet hummed like honeybees up at the portico

We fanned ourselves to keep cool as the sun sank, listening to mourning-doves serenade the arrival of the winking fireflies

We drank our bourbon out of snifters, neat, and never got more than a little bit hazy, what with having well padded ourselves with roast pheasant over a very long suppertime

We spoke in soft, lilting tones and said kind words to our mothers and children just because that’s how it was done

In our hearts, we were the pathfinders, the athletes who carved a road of freedom and justice across the plains to make new territories ring with accomplishment

We stood tall in the evergreens and set down mighty roots of dedication in lines running from the lakes to the mountaintops

We shipped on the seas and shouted joy with the birds of the air, and of an evening we were wont to watch the stars for signs of adventure yet ahead

We called ourselves hardy stock for braving the cold and wrapped our red-cheeked children in woolen blankets after a day spent in the bracing light of education

We wrestled with bears for the salmon that we ate, but then sat down to dine on it with all the gentility of our many foreign forefathers

We called our politics piety and our egalitarian philosophies a revelation even if everyone who didn’t qualify might not agree

And here we are today, being All-American but half-savage…

We live in the same states of grace but relish our superiority with self-congratulatory rudeness that would shame our imagined selves

We sneer at gentility as outmoded and write polemical pieces about each other with no sense of irony left in the spaces between the hard-edged words

We forget the flaws that taught us our cultured best’s fragility and instead of learning from the mistakes, we widen them as far as our waistbands and pockets can stretch

We turn a critical eye on the wounded world and manage to keep it keen despite the moral blind-spot toward our contributory, if not our sometimes causal, role

We are a nation of would-be saints dressed in brutes’ clothing…but perhaps in that, we may not be entirely alone…

If there is hope, it’s that we’ve gotten here at all, for surely those in our hearts and dreams must have been real somewhere to seem so tangible in imagination

We might still embrace the justice and benevolence we thought we had, if we are willing to strip away delusions of grandeur and the lust for power

We could take a moment, while nibbling our toast points and standing conqueror on our latest promontories of success, to offer a meal to the hungry and a foothold to the poor

We ought to care less about self-image, and more about wholeness and devotion to the betterment of those people and privileges we say we love so well

We are capable, if we watch the exemplars before and around us whose courage and kindness walk arm in arm instead of standing on opposing distant shores

We may yet become the greats that we imagine we should be, if only we stop pretending we are so and humbly take to walking toward it on the faint horizon instead…