Mark Harvey — A reader shares what it means to reinvent being an American


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the 4th of July – Well, OK, it was about some thoughts I had about the 4th of July – And ended up bouncing them around with a buddy. Here’s what I said:

“Last Wednesday was the 4th of July, and there were any number of ways you could have known that: pets that were still in shock, coma or hung-over from the medication, the number of firework shell casings adorning the landscape, your distinct lack of sleep due to the fireworks shell casings adorning the landscape, the 11 pounds of leftover potato salad with two chicken thighs, or…Maybe it was just the noise.

No, not the noise from the celebrations or the bands or the children’s laughter or even the munitions; it was the noise from the people who felt a need to tell us who we are, and who we need to be. Funny thing, too, because no matter who it is who’s doing the “telling,” the instruction always seems to be the same – Be more like me.

Be more like us, because “us” is YOU.

And WE know what’s good for YOU, and YOU do, too, because, in your heart-of-hearts, YOU know you really are US, so…Good for us!

…and beware of THEM.

I thought it was just me, because I almost always think it’s just me…”

And it went on, of course; well, here’s what a reader had to say, and this is worth reading:

“No, Mark. It’s not just you.

‘They are frightened, scared out of their wits, and the only peace they can find is trying to get everyone around them to agree with them … about, whatever. I wore the uniform of my country for a quarter century, even got to wear those little eagles on my collars, but I’m not so sure any longer. I don’t know what I know any more.

After all, how do we know what we know? There’s a difference between certainty and certitude.

Contemporary, over-the-top expressions of patriotism trouble me, even frighten me. I’ve seen how patriotism (we are good) so readily morphs into chauvinism (we are the best) and finally into jingoism (we are the only).

Not certain of who we are

We are living through a time of unprecedented change. We’re no longer certain of who we are. We cling to our idea of a past that possibly never existed. We create enemies, for enemies are a useful way of assuring ourselves of who we’re not when we no longer know who we are. They become ‘the others,’ someone to hate, someone to make us feel better about ourselves because we’re not them.

And, I suspect the end of this national sense of angst is some distance in the future, probably beyond the tenure of those of us in our Third Age. And, when we come out the other end we’ll probably look far different. Very likely we’re in the process of reinventing what it means to be American. And, that’s a painful process.”

I thank the gentleman for taking the time to write and taking the time to care

“Reinventing what it means to be American,” the gentleman said. Funny thing: “change” never seems like “change” when you’re in it – When you’re doing it – It just seems like you’re mucking about, struggling to do the best you can. You work and you try and you look back, and try to learn, and you look ahead, and you try to learn, and you try to do the “right” thing…

It’s only later that you look back and say, “Wow – That was ‘change’!”

I imagine the same to be true with “reinvention.”

More years ago than I care to remember, I was given a gift of one of those little stand-up-in-the-window blown glass deals that said, somewhat tritely, “You cannot discover new oceans if you’re afraid to lose sight of the shore” – Trite or not, I have it to this day, so I guess it meant something to me.

Change. New stuff, new ways. New rules. That’s scary, so we hold on even tighter to what we know – “The Devil we know” – because fear is a powerful thing.

But the change comes, anyway.

Like “aging,” in a way – becoming. New doors opening, and blah blah blah – But those little one-liners don’t always help.

We look for something to hold onto – I look for something to hold onto – And what do I find?

Well, maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find out that it isn’t just me.

Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.