ON MY MIND: United we stand

On My Mind | Maureen Burns

We watched an independent film the other day. It was highly lauded at the Sundance Film Festival.

The director is Rory Kennedy. Some of you may remember her as the baby in Ethel Kennedy’s belly when her husband, Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in California in 1968. Ethel and Bobby then had 10 children. Six months after his death, Rory became their eleventh.

Rory did this film about her mother and it is called simply, “Ethel.” Everyone I have talked to who has seen it, thought it was really good. You might want to give it a look. It is on HBO these days.

One of the things in the film that touched me deeply was a hand written letter that Bobby wrote his oldest daughter, sixteen-year-old Kathleen, on the day of his brother, Jack’s, funeral. It was a short letter, not an email. It was written with pen. It made me think about how that treasured and valuable piece of nostalgia would not be the same if it was an email or a text message. This example makes me wonder what we are losing as we move so completely into a digital age, but that is another column. One which I may write someday, and, of course, I will write it on my computer — sigh. Life is full of dilemmas.

The letter Bobby wrote was very short and said how he knew Kathleen was confused and upset with what had been done to her Uncle Jack. He encouraged her to look beyond the tragedy and to get her priorities in order. He ended it by saying that we are called upon to “ Be kind to others and work for your country. Love Daddy.”

Later in this film, Ethel is interviewed and she summed up her life with, “You dig in and do what you can.”

I watched this film a couple days before the election. I know, you wish the election was still going on. You miss the phone calls and all the extra mail in your mailbox. You miss the constant nasty TV ads and the constant roiling voices of news commentators telling you all the “blah, blah, blah”. There is a void in our lives now. We can fill it with sighs and ahhs and deep cleansing breaths.

So, as a nation, that ugly campaign is over. And like the beginning of a new year after the hectic holidays, it is time to regroup and refocus.

The day of the election, a friend came into the coffee shop. I heard him talking loudly about how I was a Democrat …

He was trying to bug me, not in a malicious way, I’m sure. However, my dander stood up. Why?

I am not a Democrat, though I have voted Democratic. I am not a Republican, though I have voted Republican. I do not consider myself an Independent or a Libertarian. I do not want to be put in a box of beliefs because I do not fit.  What I consider myself to be is an American, through and through. My party of choice is American, plain and simple.

Living in Spain, under the dictator, Francisco Franco, made me appreciate the American freedoms we take for granted. It made me appreciate many wonderful things about our country that I had never previously given thought to. I love our country and feel strongly that, “We are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.” *

When I talk with people, I am struck by the love we all have for our country and for the concerns we all have for future generations. “We are not as divided as our politics suggest. We are not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America.”

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said that when he actually met the President and looked him in the eye, he felt differently about him. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he summed it up, “I have a job in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics. I couldn’t care less about that.”

If we get to know each other in a personal way, an honest way, we see the goodness and sincerity in each other. Our stereotypes and biases fade into the background and sometimes they leave completely. I have many examples in my life of people I was sure I did not like. Then when I got to know them, even a little, I realized I did like them and that all the previous negative thoughts I had had about them were unfounded.

The day after the election I was out and about in Greenville and Grand Rapids. I heard people talking and I talked to many. There were discussions wherever I went about the future of our country. The words that rose from all the sound bites I heard were, “Let’s work together. We need to work together. It is time to work together.”

Local veterinarian Pete Blinkilde said, “It is time for Congress and all of America to get their butts in gear. This is serious. We need to find common ground and get it done.”

We are much more alike than we are different. “Our common bond is where we must begin to move forward.”

Tom Long said, “The issues are bigger than any single candidate.”

Glenda Taylor added, “My question now is what am I going to do for my community?”

The buck may stop in Washington but it begins here, in our hearts, in our communities, in our actions. “Our responsibilities and our rights include love, charity, duty and patriotism.”

Let us “sustain hope as we go forward” and as Ethel Kennedy suggested, “Dig in and do what we can.” Let us lay down the fences that have sprung up between Americans and realize that we were named the United States for a reason. We need to be united.

* Italicized quotes above are all from the speech given by Barack Obama on election night  2012 in Chicago.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is maureenburns@maureenburns.com.

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