Friday was a tough morning in our house. For no apparent reason everyone was cranky and flippant and hostile. Including me. Our chance day off from school turned from a world full of possibilities into an inexplicable fracas about where we were going and why.
Instead of engaging in a reasonable discussion where differing viewpoints were acknowledged and debated respectfully, my household was filled with a barrage of insults, voices shouting over one another, and eye rolls.
Frankly it reminded me a lot of how the entire country is behaving right now.
When everyone’s tops had blown (including mine), after the tears dried, after apologies had been remorsefully doled out (including mine), I put the boys in the car and drove up 64 to Yorktown. To the battlefields where we wrested independence from the British 235 years ago.
Growing up in southeastern Virginia, the birthplace of democracy, we spent countless Saturdays roaming the hills of Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown.
It is where my love for history was born. Where I learned the difference between a brigade and a battalion, a howitzer and a mortar, a redoubt and a siege line.
Where I learned that history is found not only on the pages of a textbook. It is in the scratched metal of a cannon, the paths etched in grassy hills from thousands of heavy footsteps, the bold flourishes of a quill pen imprinted on yellowed parchment, the chipped bricks within whose walls the whispers of men became the flint of revolution. They will all tell you their stories if you let them.
It is also where my love of words was born. The understanding that the right words, delivered in the right way, have the power to inspire, to exhort, to hurt or to heal.
Friday we climbed the hills where Washington’s troops surged in the cover of darkness.
We talked about alliances and cooperation, of courage and conviction. We saw the tent that hung over Washington’s head as he mapped out his final strategy for taking Yorktown. We sat in the grass and stared up at Lady Liberty atop the 80 foot monument to America’s victory and marveled in her beauty, both real and symbolic.
That was where I knew my boys got it – the breathtaking audacity of a group of thinkers who created a nation and the men who left their families to fight for it.
And that is what makes America what it is. We did not lay claim to liberty as our own. The words and ideas that were the catalyst for our own revolution became the catalyst for others, for the simple idea that government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Not in spite of them.
The morning was ugly, the kind of ugly you hate as a parent and a human being. But we pressed the reset button. We allowed ourselves the courage to admit our mistakes and the grace to fix them.
And if two kids and a 40 year old can do it, I’m pretty sure the rest of the country can too.
So on the eve of the election America, please let me remind you the same thing I reminded my children Friday morning: take a deep breath and chillax. Stop denigrating those with differing viewpoints, for even if you don’t agree with them, they are valid to those who hold them.
Be gracious in winning or in losing, because on Wednesday morning, we are still one nation. And we need to collectively press the reset button.
We need to remember how unbelievably lucky we are to live in a country where we choose our leaders by checking a box instead of wielding a weapon. Where we are allowed to criticize the government without fear of being hauled off to jail in the middle of the night. Where great men – brilliant men – passionately argued with each other about the way our government should operate, but at the end of the day recognized that all those different viewpoints were the very basis of a functioning democracy. That we learn more from those we disagree with than those who share our beliefs.
We are many voices, each protected by a 230 year old document that declares those voices – all of them – are sacrosanct.
We are better than our disagreements. We are bigger than our problems. We are the descendents, actual and metaphorical, of the men who stood on these fields with muskets, those who fought with their words instead of weapons, and the huddled masses and the tempest-tossed who arrive at our borders – all of whom risked their lives, their fortunes, and their honor for the great experiment that changed the course of humanity.
We are all charged with forming a more perfect union.
And it’s high time we start acting like it.