“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we alter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” -Abraham Lincoln
We’re driving the South Carolina back roads. He’s telling me all sorts of things and I’m listening, shuffling through Spotify, watching the blurring trees, feeling all kinds of alive.
“Yeah, your great-grandpa, Blev, used to tell me about living during the Depression,” he says, thoughtful.
“Yeah. He says Grandma Polly used to bake pies and she’d always leave it on the window to cool with a butter knife near it, so if anyone was hungry they could just get a piece.”
“Really? And did they?”
“They did. But they’d only take one, see. That sort of thing wouldn’t happen today.”
Keep that story in mind as we fast-forward.
It’s 2016 and I’m the great-granddaughter of a great man on a much different page in American history where everything is different. I’m working as a manager in a fast food restaurant and it’s a crazy night with a very popular coupon that is nowhere in our system. And I’m up to my eye balls, trying to help the team members calculate coupons and refusing to leave the fifteen-year-olds to fend for themselves. I’m helping one of the team members and watching out of the corner of my eye, uneasy, as another customer stands by, looking unhappy and tapping a foot. I look up, say, “I’m sorry for your wait. I’ll be with you in just a moment.”
She throws up a hand, tosses a look at her husband beside her. Finally we figure out the five coupons for the group in front of us and I slide into place behind the first cash register.
“Yes ma’am?” I ask, cautiously, “What can I get for you guys?”
A raised eye brow as she lists off what she wants, but one look and I know she’s still dissatisfied. I muddle through the order, ask questions, and hand them their cups, “We’ll get that right out to you guys. Hope ya’ll enjoy!”
They saunter off to a booth and I sit back, relieved that the tension is gone. Until five minutes later, it’s not. “Hey Mandie,” a team member approaches me, “We can’t find this order. . .and this couple says it isn’t theirs. . .” She looks helpless.
Great. I take the tray and look all over for the customer, asking the couple from a few moments before if they ordered two cheeseburger snack packs. “We didn’t order no cheeseburgers!” the woman snaps, throwing up a hand to her face and shaking her head violently when I say, “Okay, let me figure this out. . .I think they must have mixed up the numbers. I’m so sorry.”
It was back and forth with the kitchen when the woman approached the counter, irritation written all over her face. It wasn’t that I misunderstood her perspective–it was that she misunderstood mine. It was that she had no desire to understand mine. We finally came to the conclusion that the food on the tray was in fact theirs, but she demanded a remake, “That food has been all over!” And in the end, she got a remake in addition to free baskets in the future while I excused myself to the back because I needed a moment.
I sat in the office and let the tears stream down my face. Five minutes and I couldn’t find the will or the desire to face them. To face the dehumanization infringed upon me every time I slide my tie into place and adjust my hat simply because mistakes are made in my business. Because sometimes we get it wrong. Because sometimes people wait an extra few minutes on fries or a milkshake. I let it all pass and stood at the sink, gripping the edges. Honestly, I was angry, indignant, and overwhelmed all in one fell swoop. And it took me taking off my hat, staring at my reflection in that paper towel holder to remember I was human. I was very human. And I was still alive, still me.
And to be honest, since beginning as a manager in a restaurant I’ve discovered what I believe to be the true issue with the country I love so dearly. Because situations like the above occur all the time and no matter what you do, how hard you try, you can’t stop it from happening. So you learn to deal. The main issue with America isn’t Trump and it isn’t Hillary Clinton. It isn’t abortion or the wage-gap or climate change or the vast difference between Republicans and Democrats. No, work with the public in any capacity and see it for yourself: entitlement, narcissism, dissatisfaction, high standards with no leeway, blame-shifting, lack of empathy for fellow human beings, etc. All this out of the nation where pies were left in open windows. This is America crumbling before our eyes.
All this out of the nation where pies were left in open windows. This is America crumbling before our eyes.
The fact of the matter is, most people aren’t happy. Blame commercialism, blame lack of community, blame corporate America, blame religion–I don’t care who you blame because all that really matters is that it’s happening. Most people aren’t building lives anymore. They’re just existing, placing happiness in the latest technologies, the highest-paying companies, the best-connected people in their circles, the materials accrued. And I think that’s why my generation walked away from traditional American values and from becoming family-oriented individuals–because we found the disingenuous writing scrawled all over the walls. Wake up, America.
But what’s appalling is that everyone seems to be either looking back or looking forward. Either the country’s too different from 1952 or the country hasn’t changed enough and they can’t wait for 2040 and whatever they think is waiting there. This attitude is a disservice to America. The past is behind us. The future is in front of us. But neither are much help in the here and now. We are the builders, the dreamers, the thinkers. It is up to us to not give into this new identity pressing in on every side. It is up to us to not lose hope or to believe our voices mean nothing. The way we take back our country depends on what we do with the power they say we do not have. We have it. And it scares them.
We are the builders, the dreamers, the thinkers. It is up to us to not give into this new identity pressing in on every side. It is up to us to not lose hope or to believe our voices mean nothing.
The answer to how will America end up? In my opinion, it’s quite simply lodged in a question. . .
How will we leave it?
How will we impact our families? Our friends? Our communities? For good or for bad? Will we continue the parade of negative comments, strung along article after article? Will we continue to take everything we have for granted? Will we continue the dehumanization of anyone who doesn’t fit this image that the media has built? Mainstream media, America, is only as powerful as we allow it to be. Quit reading what they say. Quit listening to what they’re saying. Unplug. the. computer. Find out on your own. Build on your own.
Trump will destroy America, they say. Clinton will destroy America, they say. No. They don’t have that kind of power. If we are destroyed, the blame will be on the shoulders of every American sitting back and losing hope, believing this lie that there is nothing to be done. I won’t be a part of it any longer. There is everything to be done. There is everything to hope for.
My ancestors are varied. They are of Swedish, English, Germanic, Irish, Welsh, and even Cherokee descent. I am standing on their shoulders, on what they built for their descendants. And I am imploring you not to walk away. I am imploring you to come back. I am imploring you to fight.
I don’t know what you will decide to do, America. But I will keep hoping no matter who wins in November. I will keep doing the best I can with the decisions laid out in front of me. And I will keep pressing into my faith, into my family, into my friends, and into my community. Because it starts with me and what I choose to build.
And it starts with you too, America.