Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, Beautiful, for Spacious Skies.......

I've had it. As G'ma would say, "It's enough already". The whining has to stop. Yes, times are tough for new graduates. Yes, only 20% of those who applied for jobs this year will be working after their commencement exercises are safely enshrined on Facebook, if my alumni magazine is to be believed. Yes, we're in a recession and society is in a mess and Americans are dying in wars on foreign soil and gee whiz it sounds a lot like when I was a new college graduate in 1973. And when I finished grad school in 1975. Prospects were dim, and there were a lot of us looking into them.

The Peace Corps would've been an option were I not committed to a man who hated to travel. Besides, making money was, all of a sudden, not such an unpalatable objective. Not lots and lots of money necessarily (though that turned out to be pretty nice, too) but enough money to pay the bills with some left over to save and some to spend. The American Dream. And it felt just out of reach.

As I imagine it also felt to my immigrant grandparents, who, in addition to learning their 3rd language (English, after Russian and Yiddish) had to make their way in a society that was a mess while Americans were dying in wars on foreign soil and they were surrounded by lots of others in the same pickle.

So, I began to wonder : Might that not be, in some way, a part of the American Dream?

"America's not easy. You have to want it", Andrew Shepard reminded the White House Press Corps. America's a state of mind as much as it is a zip code or a flag. I'd never given it much thought before this summer's rash of History Channel shows on the Revolution, but the danger the signers of the Declaration of Independence faced was real. Sure, some went on to fame and fortune and higher office, but others were burned out of their homes or died in debtor's prison or lost their lives.

"A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state" does not mean that I want to be drafted. I'm perfectly happy to let those whose paths lead them to serving in the military follow their notion of bliss. I will honor and respect them but no way am I joining them. I'll do my work for America in other ways - by volunteering and donating and by raising wonderful children who will continue to do good in their own turns. And I'll do the real heavy lifting - I'll take a stab at understanding the ideas and ideals behind America, and then I'll try to live up to them.

When the Big Cuter's Selective Service form arrived 3 months before his 18th birthday, I hid it in my desk. For weeks. I never stopped thinking about it, but I couldn't give it to him. I kept waiting for the Voter Registration form to arrive; I'd give them both to him and feel better about America. It didn't arrive, so I went to the post office and got one. Handed them both to him, with tears in my eyes. Told him that I would support him if he didn't want to register, and that I'd go to Canada with him if that's what he wanted. And he looked at me as if I'd grown another head next to the already bizarre one he was talking to and he said "Give me those. The tree of liberty is fertilized with the blood of patriots." Shut me right up. Yes, sir. Stunned. Proud. Frightened. And I had to laugh, because once again parenting had shown me that I wasn't really in charge of very much at all. I'd taught him to love America; he'd come up with defending her on his own.

All this is in reaction to a contributor to the aforementioned alumni magazine. She's a streaker and smart and possesses all the arrogance - pay a fee, get a trophy - that being parented by people like me has given her. Yes, she has a sense of entitlement and she deserves it. No, getting into an Ivy League school wasn't the hardest part of the process - STAYING IN was. And she did. With honors. And now the real world is on her doorstep and she's bummed. She worries : "I fear that my generation will see our dreams stifled by jobs they dislike but had to take."

Jobs like the ones my great-grandparents took to put bread on the table? Like the one Daddoooo took to keep the family business going? Like the one I took to keep us off food stamps? Graduate School is NOT a retreat; it's never a bad idea to garner another credential. And maybe your first (or your second or your third) job won't be exactly what you'd dreamed it would be. Living your dream may take a few years, or attempts, or cities, or partners. So, maybe you ought to be looking at what you're doing outside of that filler job. Life is what happens while you are making plans so recognize that and take advantage of the rest of your life.

Because the streets are not paved with gold, as the 19th and 20th century immigrants found out. But there are opportunities if you're willing to work for them. And work doesn't necessarily end up being fun. That's why they call it work. It's not always interesting or enlightening or stimulating or motivating but that doesn't mean that your aspirations are unattainable. They are just out of reach.

Which, the more I think about it, is what makes America special - that striving, that seeking, that sense that things can be better if we work on it just a little harder. That's the American Dream.

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