Yeah, I know. Dickens wasn’t American, but he was an amazing author. And he had a point. Right now…. yes. Things are bad. It doesn’t matter where you stand on certain political issues, or when you think the Third World War will take place, things suck. It’s the ‘worst of times’.
And then there are leaps in technology, wonderful acts of human love, courage, generosity. There are moments that make you sit back and think, “Man. Life is good.” Then it’s the ‘best of times’.
It’s always the ‘best of times, the worst of times’. No period is ever perfect, and no period is ever without the moments that make it special. In the good ‘ole days, bad things were still happening.
Chris Rice wrote a song called 8th Grade. In it, one of the chorus lines is, “Why does the past always seem safer? / Maybe because at least we know we made it.” Yes, we made it. We made it out of the worst of times. Who says we can’t do it again? Who says that the American Dream isn’t what it was? It’s ALWAYS the worst of times, and it’s ALWAYS the best of times. Life isn’t going to be perfect, not by a long shot. But we can own it, and we can share the best of times with everyone. Things are always bad. But you know what?
We always come out stronger.
Quite a few people, (myself included) tend to think that our nation doesn’t have much…..culture, if you know what I mean. Sadly, most of the indigenous cultures were ignored as we plowed through America, and we’re too young to have anything that makes people say, “That’s America. That’s her.”
Except we do. I was talking with my parents yesterday, and the conversation drifted to line dancing. It’s uniquely, 100% American. Not because we’re the only country that does it, although that part’s true, but it reflects us. Think about it! America is build on team work, on every person helping the other. In line dancing, you can do it by yourself, but it doesn’t look as good. Yeah, we can do all of our amazing things on our own, but we all know that it doesn’t work that well.
In line dancing, every one is doing the same thing. The same thing. That’s it. But it looks so cool! And it’s because all the dancers are working together, because none of them are clamming the spotlight. Line dancing is American, not only in where it’s preformed, but what it is.
In the movie The Hunt for Red October, the commanding officers of the Red October submarine are planning to defect from the USSR during the Cold War. The movie is gripping, sad, and filled with wonderful suspense as the US and the USSR try and find this missing submarine. One in order to help her crew, the other in order to wipe them from the face of the earth.
In the midst of all the action and angst that the movie has to offer, there is a quieter scene where the Soviet Captain and his First Officer are sitting in the Captain’s quarters, drinking together. The First Officer starts to talk about what he will do when they finally reach America and freedom. He’ll buy a “recreational vehicle”, he says. He’ll marry a pretty country girl, and farm rabbits. Then he’ll take his truck and drive all over the country just because he can. “And [I will] drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?” The Captain replies that he thinks they can. Then the First Officer asks one more question. “No papers?” The Captain smiles slightly. “No papers.” He agrees.
The first time I watched this movie, I didn’t appreciate the power or the sadness of that scene. The First Officer can’t believe that he would be able to go state-to-state without needing to go past guards, or have papers proving that he’s allowed to cross the border. He could simply…. drive. And it was amazing to him. Here in America, we have privileges that most people can only dream of. Yet the fact that we have those privileges can sometimes blind us. It can blind us to the fact that other people need papers when we don’t. Here in America, no papers are required to go from Texas to Maine. I mean, why you’d want to go all the way to Maine from Texas for the heck of it is beyond me, but you can do it. We live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Even though things might look bad, just remember that we’re still part of one of the most amazing countries that has ever existed. No papers needed.
I work at a library. One of the parts of this job is processing, or getting books ready to be checked out. Recently I was working on a decent sized student encyclopedia. It had everything in it. Trains? Got you covered. What about ancient Rome? No problem. Or what about something a little more random, like hot air balloons? Check! And then I realized yet another wonderful thing about American culture.
We LOVE teaching! For illustration: I went through a phase where I wanted to go into script writing. I am by no means a movie nerd, and I didn’t know a single thing about what went into making a movie, so I looked it up. Everything I could want to learn was right there at my fingertips. It didn’t matter that I was fifteen and couldn’t tell you the first thing about how script submissions worked, I found what I needed. I found what I needed because someone took the time to write about what they know, and to do it in such a way that I, with my limited experience, could understand. You know what? I can tell you how script submissions work now. Because someone wanted to teach what they know to a stranger.
People in America are always making it easier for the next generation to learn something. We’re…. what…. the twentieth generation of Americans? That means that we have twenty stinkn’ generations of people who have been teaching us to stand on. And now that we have things like Google, we can find all that information in an instant!
In America, it’s very, very easy to learn something. Anything. Anything you want. Our predecessors want to teach us, books about history and science are screaming to be read, things that took America hundreds of years to find out you can learn in a free, five minute lecture from YouTube. The sky is the limit for Generation Z, let’s see if we can push past the horizon!
This is just something that I have become more and more aware of recently: the little things matter. I cringe at how cliché that sounds, but they do. The little things matter. I have stressed the freedom we American teens have of carving amazing futures for ourselves using what our country has given us, but I’ve come to realize that the big futures aren’t the only things waiting for us over the horizon of 21.
Some of us are going to shine out as figures in history, and some aren’t. That’s okay. Great, even. If every single plant on this earth were as tall and grand as the red oaks in California, then we’d never find a bouquet of flowers, and the bees wouldn’t be able to make honey. If all the stars were suns, the heat would kill us. If every rock was a diamond, we’d throw them away faster than you could say Jack Rabbit. What I’m trying to say is that, if you want to live a quiet life with the ones you love, that’s not a bad thing. I think that the Incredibles summed this up pretty well. “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”
The giants of our country can’t stand without the help of the citizens, the flowers are just a beautiful as the trees, the stars make shapes the sun could only dream of. Even if we’re never famous, even if people never know our names, or remember who we are years after we’re gone, we will have helped the next famous person onto their mountain by just…… being. We don’t need to be big, or rich, or powerful to make a difference. We can do that right here, right where we are in the middle of this big, famous country. We don’t need to be important to matter.
I’m not saying that we should give up on our dreams of Olympic gold, or seeing your name in print, or hearing a song you wrote on the radio. Those dreams are beautiful. But, if you don’t have a dream like that, you’re not ‘messed up’, you don’t need to be big to shine. So just….. be. And don’t worry!
The nerd. The flirt. The jock. The loner. The bookworm. The student. Cookie-Cutter Personality. The ones you read about, the ones you hear people talk about. Oh, you never miss a Yankee game? You’re a sports buff! You dress conservatively? Home schooled/sheltered. I know you already!
You and I both know that that’s not true. Our tvs and books scream so, they’re shouting it in our faces. But we know that there is more to a stranger than meets the eye. Cookie Cutter Personalities exist, they’re referenced, even taken advantage of. But they’re not us. They don’t have to be us.
Here in America, in this amazing and beautiful country, we all know that each person is someone. That they have a life, surprises, stories, things that make them 100% them. Nothing about us is factory-made! If you see someone that’s different, we don’t freak because we can’t find a label for them! We think, “That’s them, I’m me. We don’t have to be the same.”
Too much of the same makes me think of the droid army from the Star Wars Prequels. They’re not alive, they don’t have feelings, dreams, or aspirations that only they can achieve. They were pre-programmed for one role, and one role only. Never any more or less. Americans? We can soar with eagles, we can fall into the depths of the sea, and no one thinks that’s who we are. We’re free to live; to explore and find what our life is made of. Sure, we might cookie-cutter ourselves a bit. I enjoy reading, that doesn’t mean that all I’ll ever be is a bookworm. We can just…… live. We can be us, and no one judges it. I’m me, you’re you, and we’re beautiful the way we are.
Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. We all know this. We also know that, unless we want to make ourselves miserable, focusing on the bad stuff is…. well…. bad. So we all remember the good stuff.
The A in Geometry, a casual complement, we all focus on these things when the going gets rough. But, if you’re like me, then there are days when you’re just fed up and can’t remember as many happy memories as you’d like.
My Mom is an amazing person and, several years ago, she gave me a really cool idea. We call it the Happiness Folder. Every time I receive a thoughtful note, or a good grade, or anything like that, it gets put in the Happiness Folder, which then gets referred to when yours truly has a terrible day. It’s amazing! Complements that I had forgotten I’d been given sit in there, and it’s wonderful to look at! I don’t go to it only on the bad days, either. It’s great to look at a great job review in the morning! It gives me that, “Yes, I can do it!” vibe, which is really awesome to feel on Mondays.
By focusing on all the good, instead of all the bad, it improves us as people. And it improves us as Americans. Just because people don’t like what we have to say doesn’t mean that others feel the same way about us. If we focus on all the good, the glass is half-full, and America is amazing. It does something to your worldview. I don’t know what, but remembering and sharing good to put in whatever kind of Happiness Folders we or our friends might have changes people.
Below I’ve shared a video that shows how awesome this is!