Salads, air travel, and patriotism

One day, I made a salad. It was your typical green salad, with romaine lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and Italian dressing. Nothing fancy or special, just a nice little salad to accompany our dinner.

With my second or third bite, though, things took a dark, dangerous turn. As I bit into my forkful of green goodness, I felt an unexpected lack of resistance from the cherry tomato in that bite, followed by a sickly-sweet flavor that can only be described as decayed, rotten, and foul. I rushed to the sink, spat out the offensive vegetable matter, and rinsed my mouth to rid it of the aftertaste of garden death.

I had narrowly avoided disaster.

Yet, somehow, I was able to trust again.

Oh, sure, I still double-check the tomatoes I put in my salads, but I haven’t condemned all cherry tomatoes to the dustbin of my personal culinary history. I like the sweet, acidic bite they add to my meals, and, while I’m less willing to take any old tomato and make it a part of my diet, I still appreciate what they have to offer and I will give them a chance to provide their contributions to the salads I continue to enjoy. Because I know that, just because one tomato was bad, it doesn’t mean that they ALL are. I don’t have to give up an entire species of vegetable just because of a bad experience with one specimen. And, even if I should happen to encounter more rotten tomatoes, I am pretty confident that, with some vigilance and reasonable care in selection, that I can avoid a similar experience in the future.

Here’s another story:

In the spring of 2001, my wife and I were invited to attend a wedding in the Bay Area of California, scheduled for early October. We accepted, and made our travel arrangements for the fall, looking forward to the trip.

A few months later, the world changed.

As our travel date for the wedding approached, my wife asked me if I thought we should still go. After all, we had a 6-month-old son, and there were many questions and much uncertainty about flying in the US.

My response was, “Yes, we should go. We have to go.”

You see, I’d told her, the people who crashed airplanes in the New York skyline, Pentagon, and that Pennsylvania field had been trying to change the US. They wanted us to be afraid to live our lives, to be afraid to do the things that we’d always considered routine. Cancelling our trip, then, would be conceding the skies to them. And not just the skies, but conceding that they had the power to make us do things differently. Not because their ideas were better, but because we were scared of them.

They wanted us to deny who we were, not just because of what they had done, but because of what they might do.

So, why do I tell these stories?

Because there are voices- loud, strident voices- in this country today saying that we should stop being Americans, that we should act out of fear, that we should turn our national backs on people in desperate need because of what might happen. These same voices, proclaiming the exceptionalism of American on the one hand, say that we can’t even trust widows, children, and old men in our country because people who share their religious beliefs have done terrible things. They say we should monitor houses of worship, refuse immigration, even create a nation-wide registry of people, simply because SOME of them might be dangerous.

In the days following 9/11, many people took to heart the words of one of the passengers of the flight that crashed into that field in Pennsylvania; “Let’s roll.” It was a cry of defiance, of resistance. People were saying, “We will NOT let this change who we are in our hearts, how we live our lives! They can NOT make us live in fear!”

And yet, almost 15 years after those events, the loudest cheers for a Presidential candidate come after he says, “Build a wall!” “Close down the mosques!” “Keep THEM out!”

That’s not who we are. At least, it’s not who we WERE.

This country was founded on openness. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free!

This country was founded on courage. “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country!” “We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

This country was founded to tear down walls, not build them.

I’m not advocating that unfettered refugee settlement, unchecked immigration, or turning a blind eye to extremism is sound national policy. What I am saying is that reacting, knee-jerk, to fear of possible outcomes, is un-American, that it goes against the true philosophy of the founding of this country and disrespects the memory of those who sacrificed so much to make this country possible, and who have given so much to make it great.

Would a real “Patriot” hid behind a wall, or turn away those most in need of our help, because they were afraid of what might happen?

Life is never going to completely safe; we have to decide how much of our identity we’re willing to surrender in the name of an illusion of security.


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