I’m on my way back to Denver now – a short time in DC; ending a life, starting another. Not a different life, not really, just in a different place – which is the same thing, isn’t it? Or is it? Just another chapter, I suppose. I remember the beginning of this chapter. Mitt Romney had just lost the election, my little boy was opening his eyes to the world; and the Republic of Mali was burning.
Feels like an eternity ago – so much has happened. Personally, of course; the first three years of a little boy’s life are full. They were amazing – watching this little dude learn to sit up, to crawl, to walk, and to run; to utter his first word, and then sentence, and then full on in three languages. Now he can chatter incessantly to more than half the world. Running around the tiny Bamako zoo.
Also professionally. This week I was in Washington to write the last paragraph in the Mali chapter of my life. It ended, well great in fact. A panel discussion at the United States Institute for Peace (watch below – I start at about minute 30 if you don’t want to watch all hour and a half). Telling the tale of my part in a story that is also the story of so many others; musicians and goat herders and civil servants in a country that was rescued from the darkness. A good story; a chapter I am proud of.
The “flyover” states are below me now. I wonder what folks down there feel about what we’ve accomplished? Do they care? Are they proud of our country’s work in faraway lands? I think they are – so many of the young men who fight and die in our wars are from here. So many of our diplomats and politicians; our humanitarians and our missionaries are from down below – their own stories starting there. We forget that sometimes, those of us who now live in such a different world – a world where Bamako flies off the tongue faster than Boise. It’s not pretentiousness – at least not for me – it’s just that we all, we humans, surround ourselves with people who share our experiences, interests and geography. Yes, this is even true in the Facebook generation.
Which makes me wonder, are there really two Americas, as many would have us believe – pitting us against each other in the hopes of advancing their own ambition? Or, don’t we all sacrifice? Don’t we all sorrow when things go wrong? Don’t we all have a role in building this nation? And, more importantly, can we who like to drop stories about Bamako, respectfully and without judgement, also come to respect just as much the fears, frustrations and beliefs of those whose stories are about Boise?
We are all from somewhere; we all have the wisdom of those who raised us to fall back upon – lest we forget. For me, I can remember was my great-grand-daddy sitting on the porch of his trailer home in Altoona, Pennsylvania smoking Marlboro reds. Too many people smoked back then, and my great-grandma wouldn’t let him smoke in the house. We’d sit and watch the sun move towards the trees – feel the cool nip enter the air and he’d tell stories about his time as a union baker, or setting up carnivals that came through town, or driving trucks; sometimes we’d see a bunny or even a deer run through the park. “Dinner time,” grandma would yell and we’d go in – meat and potatoes; not mutton; not sushi; not quinoa; not njeera.
Those crisp evenings in family feel so very far away from Bamako, Mali where I raised my little boy. But they’re really not, because the truths – the spirit that was infused in me way back is what is transferred, generation after generation. It makes us reach back – at least those of us who still have some sense – to the flyover states; especially when we have our own babies. We need the goodness – the goodness that comes from family; we need the story – the story of our people; we need the past – our past. My little boy’s past will not be in Bamako. Oh, he’ll always think it’s exotic and cool, and it might even cause some angst when he wants to pretend he’s troubled. But his is the story of America, which will come as my story has – from places like Altoona, Phoenix; Michigan and Denver.
So no, there are not two Americas; if only those of sensitive spirit would speak out. And there are no flyover states – as the politicians realize in a fit of panic every four years. There are just these United States – forever alive in the minds of her children, even those grow up in Bamako.