A Perfect Union: Hang Together—or Separately?

IMG_5233“It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” —Benjamin Franklin, 1777

It was indeed a high ideal, worthy of striving for: a country where all men were considered created equal. But, as many point out, even those who dreamed it up didn’t really understand what it entailed.

Yet still, America won her independence from Great Britain and set off on her quest. To welcome the immigrants, whether they be poor or wealthy, hungry or replete. To truly endeavor to deliver liberty and justice for all.

There was a learning curve, of course. There had to be for a nation that enslaved people of color, that treated women as property, that ignored or even condemned those with a different nature (read “with a different sexual preference”). Our nation was nearly a century old when we fought each other over the right to own humans of a different color. And women were not given the right to vote for another fifty to sixty years. A steep learning curve we still climb.

And still we strive. Our Constitution guides us. We want to answer its charge and form a perfect Union of our states. But as the number of states has grown, as more and more immigrants have made their homes here, we have faced a growing quandary. Who is right and who is wrong when so many want such different things? How can we expect a farmer of Hispanic descent to want the same things as a lawyer of white European descent or a businessman whose grandparents moved here from the Middle East?

The very nature of our union of states makes our unified mission ever more difficult. What is easy for the cosmopolitan to accept goes against the very grain of the rural. Add in religious beliefs and splits deepen to crevasses.

And still, until recently, I thought we might someday achieve our perfect union. Until the day our president issued a disturbing statement that women of color who had been duly elected to represent their constituents should “go back to where they came from.”

In that moment, we went from George Washington chopping down a cherry tree to Donald Trump taking an axe to the founding principles of our country. It’s a deep crevasse to fall into, and now we stand divided on either side, teetering on the decision of whether to follow him in or not.

Meanwhile, the enemies of the long-lasting American experiment watch for the opportunity to push us all in. A divided America is much easier to defeat than a “perfect Union”. I like to think that Benjamin Franklin foresaw these circumstances from the beginning. Certainly, when he looked at his fellow signers and co-conspirators and said, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” he voiced the fear they all felt. But those words may apply now, too. If our nation proves divisible after all, we will all be left hanging—by our fingertips on the edge of a chasm.

Poem: What Good is a Girl?

Today my heart aches for children, but especially girls. Girls whose childhood is stripped away too early. I remember when men started taking notice of me. When I wore shorts on a summer day and walked down the street in my hometown and a man wolf-whistled at me.

I was thirteen. I had no idea what the thoughts of those men were when they ogled me. If I’d known, I probably would never have left the house again. As it was, I blushed and felt like I’d done something wrong.

That was my first introduction to what some men think girls are good for. Today, in a courtroom, a powerful man is calling 14-year-olds “underaged women”. Which indicates that once a female begins menstruating, she’s only good for one thing. I mean, hey, what else are girls good for?

Well, I wrote this for the mothers of “underage women” and for the “underage women” themselves. We are good for so much more.

 

What Good is a Girl?

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

She can sing like a lark and make you feel like you’re flying.

She can paint pictures with words that leave you sighing.

She can build the best sand castles, run fleetly to the sea—

And leave you wondering, what else can she be?

 

She can spend hours in a tree just reading a book.

She might even share if  you climb up to take a look.

She can tell jokes that make you belly laugh out loud—

Or lay back on the grass and point out a castle in a cloud.

 

She’ll defend you against enemies, always come to your aid.

She’ll build the best science project, make the best grade.

She can net the winning basket or hit the last goal—

One thing is sure, life with her never gets old.

 

What good is a girl? you dare to ask.

Better than you deserve, you stupid ass.

IMG_8714

Mo Willems might be my hero.

38B7A857-CCC8-4372-A538-2543DC064778

A children’s book can give you a glimpse into your deepest soul. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye.

I remember the first time my son brought home Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems from the school library. I loved reading to my kids, but I really never connected with Pigeon. Why he was so popular with my kids, I never really knew. I loved the Frances books, anything by Rosemary Wells, and when they started bringing home little beginning readers like Henry and Mudge, I was in seventh heaven!

But the Pigeon? Every time one of my kids brought one of those home, I just rolled my eyes.

Turns out I missed the point. Pigeon is much deeper and much more shallow at the same time. He’s a philosopher and a spoiled child wrapped into one, which is kind of how I see myself. Maybe I just didn’t like seeing myself on the pages of a children’s book?

How do I know all this about Pigeon? I read an interview with his creator. Check it out here: Mo Willems Interview. (My thanks to my friend Liz for referring me to this article!)

Mo Willems’s admittedly incredible ability to look into my soul and pull a pigeon out of it notwithstanding, he says some very insightful things about the nature of art and creativity and writing. “Books are sculptures” is indeed one of them. What took me most by surprise, though, was the revelation that he’s not just writing to inspire kids. He’s writing to inspire the parents to do and say and live the way they want their kids to do and say and live.

Consider this: “[W}e constantly hear, ‘Our children are the future,’ but we seldom say, ‘Hey we’re the present and it’s incumbent on us to be present.’ So there’s this silliness, but there’s also a, ‘You can do it, too.'”

Thank you, Mo Willems!

I’m 49 years old. I’ve just published my first children’s book (Jessica Entirely by Shelley Gee). I also privately published my first collection of poetry Times and Ties. I’m taking singing lessons and auditioning for plays. I’m inspired by my kids, and my only regret right now is that I’ve never done any of these things before. I didn’t model my life by living my dreams. If anything, they’ve modeled for me by bringing home books for me to read that I wouldn’t normally have read, and introducing me to movies and television and a slew of pets I never would have chosen to bring into my life.

So I’ll presume to add a little to Mr. Willems’s statements. Be inspiring to your children, but don’t be afraid to be inspired by them, too. A family circle is beneficial to all.

Something I wrote:

Jessica smiled in spite of her worries about her friends. They all had friends in town and friends who evacuated and friends who might have lost their homes in the storm. But she had her family right there with her and the idea of helping made her feel much better about things in general. She took a deep breath and followed her family to the kitchen, happier than she ever had been at the prospect of spending an hour or two with them at the table.

Happy 4th: Losing focus and the American flag

C4D9F398-D1BB-4C11-85FC-1B649C7C04BF

It’s a quandary for me right now. I love the American flag. I want to feel proud of my country and celebrate what is wonderful about it. But everything is out of focus. I can’t fix on any one thing that makes us special. We’ve drifted so far from what our founding fathers wanted us to be, but I think it’s all a result of a series of mistakes.

Maybe the first mistake was in ever thinking that the wounds a civil war inflicts upon a nation can ever be fixed. Or maybe it was in believing that such a huge expanse of such varied terrain—which, by nature, requires differences in the people who seek to live there—could ever be united in one cause. But I believe the mistake came when white men first set foot on this land, which already belonged to someone else.

You can’t own what’s not for sale. You can steal it, but you’ll never really be the owner.

Think about that the next time you’re feeling particularly possessive of all your survey, whether it’s the view from a penthouse, the beachfront, or just your neatly mown front lawn. It’s all stolen. Or maybe just borrowed.

It’s easy to lose focus. It’s easy to forget and whitewash and remember only what we wish. The big picture is made up of many small pictures, after all. But every so often, it’s useful to study those small pictures and remember, divided as we might all be, we are all, at best, borrowers—at worst, thieves.

And when we pledge allegiance to our flag, we’re promising to continue the tradition.

Poem: Teetering

IMG_8049

There’s no guardrail here.

A few days ago, I visited the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go, even if it was on my bucket list. The Grand Canyon is a bit of a challenge for someone with even a mild fear of heights, and I definitely have at least that. But I found once I got there that the paths were wide and I could walk on the side away from the canyon and enjoy the view.

My kids were another story entirely. It seemed they were intent on walking as close to the edge as I would allow. I was constantly calling or motioning them back from what seemed like a precipitous edge down which they were sure to fall. My oldest finally looked at me with exasperation and said, “You bring me to a big hole in the ground and tell me to stay away from the big hole in the ground!”

I laughed, but it’s true. I told him to stay away from the hole in the ground because I want to protect him. I don’t want him to fall.

Of course, while we were looking at the big hole in the ground, the United States teetered on the brink of far worse. We put our toes over the very edge of a very dark, deep hole waiting to drown us in war (and don’t fool yourself that it won’t be nuclear). We’re still balancing on the edge of that black pit, but it’s full of our sins just waiting to pull us in. Sins like helpless children held prisoner without decent beds or meals. Environmental regulations rolled back every day in favor of money. A clueless leader who has lost the respect of every nation on earth except those hoping to profit from his ignorance. And our blind eyes turned to all of it.

Remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a pool waiting to plunge in but not quite ready for the cold water to envelop your steaming skin? Remember the feel of the rough concrete beneath your feet as you leaned forward just a little more, spreading your arms for balance so you didn’t fall too soon but you might fall any minute?

Remember the moment your toes finally lost their grip and you plunged in before you were ready and the hopelessness of knowing the icy water would shock your skin and pull you down?

We’re teetering on the edge of something far worse now.

 

Teetering

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Toe slides…

Over the edge…

Arms spread…

Balanced,

But mindful.

 

Lean a little more—how far can we go?

How far before…

The balance

Slips?

And we

Fall?

 

Wobbling,

Swaying,

Sliding,

It may be

Fate,

But—

 

Who will see the plunge and watch us flatten the world?

Can anyone stop it?

Please?

Poem: Action Required

IMG_5233

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Action Required

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

ONE

Every second.

I count them, one, two, three…

Five thousand.

Ten.

Too many, too long.

TWO

Treasures disappear.

See them go? One, two, three…

Liberties and freedoms—

Lives.

Why do we wait?

THREE

Children cry and die.

Counting bars and days: One, two three…

Mother and father gone.

Lost.

Seconds become minutes become

MORE

Nations crumble

In less time than one, two, three…

Walls disintegrate.

Fall.

And so may we—in time.

ONE

TWO

THREE

WELCOME TO THE END.

I agree with Mr. Mueller: The written word is more powerful than the spoken one.

scribbles on wall

Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

Today I watched a historic speech given by a great man. Former Special Counsel on the Russia investigation Robert Mueller finally gave us his two cents worth in a speech. And he basically said what he had already written was worth much more.

He’s right. He said: “I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work, but beyond these few remarks, it is important the office’s written work speak for itself.” In other words, I’m outlining a few points here, but this is basically a book report. Read the book if you want to know what happens.

Later on, he added: “We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.”

Have you ever noticed that when you’re speaking, you might say anything, but when you write it down, you think about it? If you haven’t, you probably don’t write much. Maybe you’re one of those who can write themselves into a corner on a birthday card. But if you write reports of any sort, if you write news stories or blog posts or books, you think about the impact of each word on your reader. And you think about the impact you want to make on your reader.

The written word has a power that the spoken word does not, and it also has a permanence the spoken word usually lacks. I believe Robert Mueller’s words will live on, both in spoken and written form. I also believe it’s time to pay attention to what he has already told us. And have the courage to act accordingly.

I’m editing this to add one more thought. Mr. Mueller’s written words are there for history. If Congress does not act on these words, history will judge them accordingly.