Letter: Lessons from a local patriot

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I’m so tired. Are you?

I’m tired of these highly charged times of intense disagreement over things that so divide the people of this community and the United States as a whole. Still, everyone has an opinion, and everyone’s opinion is the right one. Just ask them.

There was a time when mixed marriages referred mostly to religion and people of different color. Today, mixed marriage means one partner leans left and the other partner leans right.

This learned antagonism spreads within families as well. Perhaps you are leaning left or right. Your family member leans in the same political direction; they lean in the same direction, however, their lean or yours is either too far or not far enough. We’ve become the Hatfields and McCoys.

Bernie or Pete? Joe or Elizabeth? You better be on my train, or we’ll run you over on the way to the polls. Let’s not even try to describe the intense discord if one is for a conservative candidate or position and the other is for a progressive one.

Enough is enough!! Politics today breeds hate.

Once upon a time, we were encouraged to listen to others whose opinions differ from our own. Then, it was possible to parse from the other learning points and serious questions that led to an exchange of ideas. It’s called expanding your thinking, or if I can be so blunt — learning.

Not in these times. Today, we write off the other as “an idiot,” unpatriotic or simply the “enemy.” What a horrible loss to friends, family and American society. We can measure the relationship losses this causes by the amount of time it takes before an idea exchange becomes a shouting match.

I’m not a pure sentimentalist, but I hearken for a time when we could disagree without being angry or disagreeable. I must add potentially becoming violent to the current mix. Today, our politicians have led us astray, and we the people are blindly following their incitements into a national abyss.

I lost a dear friend, Smoky Williams [of Asheville], in July. This amazing patriot died at 98. He left a secure job after graduating from Princeton to join the Marine Corps in 1943. He was on the first wave of Marines to come ashore at Iwo Jima for the bloodiest battle in the Pacific theater of operations. He said he did so to honor the gift the founders bestowed upon all of us. He said it was his duty to protect our democracy when Nazis and Japanese threatened to destroy this precious gift.

Once, I asked him to define patriotism. He said, “It’s not about joining the military or flag-waving.” He added, “Patriotism is doing right by your neighbors. Join the PTA, volunteer to help others, support your community, your place of worship.” Then he smiled and added with a wink, “And by all means, avoid partisan politics.” George Washington said the same in his farewell letter to the young nation he helped forge into the USA.

Maybe we all should shut up and listen. If we can’t listen to each other, then at least let’s heed the words of Smoky and our first president. Let’s reclaim the part of the American dream that calls for civility, respect for differences and a belief in “E Pluribus Unum,” “Out of Many, One.” After all, that’s the motto Congress enacted to grace the great seal of The United States in 1782. If only they could see us now.

— Chuck Fink


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