By John Porter
We aging baby boomers tend to refer back to events and times in our lives which had major impacts on us — many times to the disillusionment of those who end up having to listen. However, as you’re reading this, you can stop “listening” anytime and not only will I not feel bad, I won’t even know.
There have only been a few occasions in my life when I was truly fearful about the future of our country. These have been times when we have been seriously divided on important issues.
One of these times was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we faced numerous homegrown and overseas threats to our national unity. The issue of civil rights was foremost in the news and our thoughts, and the Vietnam War was causing a major division in our country — those for it versus those against.
We had experienced the assassinations of two revered leaders — Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy — these just a few years after the assassination of President John Kennedy. We were truly a country in both an idealistic and practical crisis. There have been other such occasions but none as vivid in my memory as this period of time.
One of the songs I remember from that time, not only for the music but for the message, was by The Beatles. “Come Together” was released in 1969, and while the meaning for the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney may have been a bit different, I welcomed the message as something I hoped we could do as a nation. However, I truly wondered if we would. Too many young men and women were dying in an unpopular war and we couldn’t seem to get our arms around the belief that we were more alike than different, even if we had differing views, and deserving of equal treatment.
We found ourselves in the middle of a terrible “storm,” one which was either going to tear us totally apart or make us stronger. As the years passed, progress was made on a number of fronts and not only did we discover we had survived but we also were a bit stronger, as individuals and as a country. This, of course, doesn’t mean we solved the problems that had plagued us but steps were being made — some small, small larger — but mostly in a positive direction.
I believe we presently find ourselves at a similar point: very divided and, depending on your point of view, either hopeful or discouraged. And while it doesn’t appear this will be easily resolved for the many of us who wish it could, I truly believe and have to believe we will not only work our way through the many issues dividing us but that we will also be better for it as individuals and as a nation. While the “road” may seem steep and even insurmountable at times, our collective wisdom, coupled with our desire to make things better for ourselves and others will carry the day.
While the opportunity to pull the nation together on the national stage may be a bit daunting, there’s much we can do locally to insure that we don’t lose what has made our country grow and flourish over the past 240 years. Perhaps the day-to-day things we do for others might serve as models for those in power.
Thus, I ask that in this month devoted to love and caring for others, we all take a moment to reflect on what’s important, what we each can do, how we can state our opinions and feelings without disparaging others, and how we might possibly help our national leaders understand what’s truly important.
And while thinking globally, I encourage you to act locally. How? You might reach out to assist someone in need, make a commitment to your church, donate your time in volunteer services to others, tutor a child, become a Big Brother or Big Sister, contribute to your favorite charity or offer a hand of compassion to someone who needs it. Doing so may seem like just another small step, but that first small step can lead to larger ones, and collectively all these steps will result in our coming closer together.
The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.