What It Means To Be An American

College Prep English 11, October 4, 1991

Dug up this college prep essay from 1991 recently. Hard to believe all these 25+ years later the exact same sentiment can be said in our country. I think one of the reasons it feels so hard to believe is because that was written over half my life ago. It has -- especially lately -- started to feel like we are going backwards as a society. No squinting needed, here's the text from the essay:

"I strongly believe that we, as Americans, have our priorities out of line.  Does the fact that we, as Americans, can not be confident in sending our children to school and trust that they will be back safely, give a positive outlook on America?  Is it important that someone takes the first step in environmental awareness?  Fortunately, I feel a responsibility to have my personal priorities set at being a positive catalyst in both of these examples.  Unfortunately (maybe), I feel that responsibility because I am HUMAN, not because I am an American.  America is portrayed as "a land of opportunity" and "the home of the free," but how can we live that out when there is such crime that many children do not even get the chance to make it to high school.  In my opinion, some of the simplest things are being overlooked as Americans, such as the safety of our future leaders or the health of our future athletes, while we get involved with some events that should be insignificant to us, as Americans.  Hopefully, soon we can set our priorities keeping the safety and health of our own people in mind."

I have a couple critiques of this essay I wrote when I was 16 years old: (a) I botched the spelling of "cannot" by splitting "can" and "not" into 2 words, (b) not a huge fan of the "our own people" usage at the end. Besides that, I stand by this conviction. 

Shout out on the "health of our future athletes". Back then, I was definitely allll about sports. 

Seriously, it is hard to fathom that I wrote this essay more than 26 years ago. Every word feels exactly the same today. And that scale is put perfectly into perspective by Jack Kornfield when he wrote about the recent Charlottesville, Virginia, tragedy. This reminds me of how young this country actually is:

"In many ways we Americans are still fighting the Civil War. It was not so long ago. My great-grandparents, several of whom I knew well, fled the pogroms of Russia to come to the United States in the 1880s and 1890s. This was only 20 years after the end of the Civil War!"

Charlottesville August 2017

Since I lived in Charlottesville for over a year recently, the tragic death of Heather Heyer there during a white supremacist rally is causing a reflection of the 90's when I actually wrote the above essay. I also fairly recently watched the reenactment of the O.J. Simpson trial (The People vs. OJ), so I was already reliving some of those memories of the early 90's. 

I never thought that I would fling myself into the future and end up where I am. I give thanks regularly for being drawn towards certain lessons, certain growth spurts, certain people. And I certainly wouldn't have imagined I would end up in Charlottesville, Virginia, after spending 19 years in California. I'm so glad I had that experience. I am proud I had the courage to make that huge life change, even though it it was a more difficult chapter in the arc of my story. 

All that being said, it made the relatedness to the sadness of good ol' C'ville this year that much more real for me. The general nature of that town is very sweet and kind. And small. 

My high school essay asking the question of what it means to be an American feels so loaded in 2017. Politics have colored all of our experiences to such a serious degree, it's difficult to articulate the delicate state of our world lately. Deciphering my thoughts on being American will continue to expand.