I was born in a country ravaged by World War II. My first and only warm dress at the time was knitted from wool my father brought back from a trip to England. The land was saline after the dykes had been broken to drive out the enemy. Food was scarce. “Broodje tevree”—satisfied sandwich—was the term used for not getting any topping on a slice of bread.
I don’t remember the hardships of the early years. My belly must have been full enough, my toes warm under the covers in the cold of winter. I only heard the stories about frozen pipes, about water for tea chopped out from under the ice in a kitchen tub, my mother pregnant with me, my father away in the army. I do remember complaining that all we had was strawberries grown on the land behind our house to go with the bread on the table.
Times got better in post-war Europe and my parents took advantage of opportunities, a better job, education for the children. My parents still saved the waxed paper bags the butcher packed the lunch meat in and recycled them for the sandwiches we took to school daily. My mother sewed our clothes and taught us to sew; she taught us to knit sweaters, socks and scarfs. You never know when you may need the skills she would say.
My world kept expanding. At age 19, I boarded my first airplane to America for a two-month stay in New England as an au pair, a live-in nanny, earning my keep while learning about the New World. It was a BIG world; everything was big, expansive, from shampoo bottles to freeways and forests. I fell in love with nature; I hated the bigoted way some people my age made fun of my accent, my misunderstandings. I was in awe of the largesse of buildings, New York, the diversity of people, black, brown, white, yellow, red; the diversity in clothing, in accents, in spirituality. I was afraid of the narrow two party system, too narrow for all the different political views, I thought. And yet there was one common language everyone understood, one common law everyone adhered to, one government everyone was subject to. No need for passports to travel a distance, no need to exchange currency when crossing a state line. It was a world where one-ness prevailed.
After two months I returned to a continent full of nations with borders, with different languages, different currencies, multi-partied parliamentary systems. I felt the restriction of the borders, the whiteness of my people, the limits of my religious upbringing. After university I travelled to escape, to learn, to embrace that bigger world. One world, we’re all people, why not? I found oneness in an ashram in the Himalayas. I found oneness with students in a coffee shop in Teheran. I found oneness at the top of Kala Patar watching the avalanches come down from Everest. I found oneness among Tibetan refugees as they shared barley tea.
I married an American and set out for a life in a nation that knew oneness. I lived in a commune; I learned about New Age thinking. I learned what American humor, American song, American literature, and American history was. I gained another degree in an American University.
I learned that the oneness wasn’t as one as they said it was.
It took a long time for me to become an American, to raise my hand and say I would renounce my citizenship of birth. I couldn’t let go of the skills, the views, the mindset of curiosity and dialogue my parents had raised me with. I hung on to my native nationality like it was a first love. The time came when I knew I had to let go, when this vast country was more mine than the land where I had taken my first steps. After 35 years of being a legal resident, I became an American citizen in the land of the free where every religion is welcome, where tolerance is the aspired common currency. That day I raised my hand with citizens from Asia, Russia, the Philippines, France, and Turkey. Together we repeated the oath of allegiance. Together we stood for the principles of a free country.
I can’t believe we now have a president who denies people access from other parts of the world. People who have gone through the vetting process, people who have skills and a worldview that will enhance the American culture of diversity, of acceptance. America was the shining example in this vast world for tolerance, for blending, for innovation. America the great experiment of what is possible among humans is turning in on itself. My view of humanity, my hope for humankind depends on the success of the American experiment. I’m an immigrant, don’t let me down.
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An ethical man is leaving office. A man who can be bought with a “deal” is taking his place. How do we carry on? We're in an extraordinary time in government.
My ethics do not change because people in office change. My ethics are simple, live and do no harm. I have been awakened from a relative calm sea of ethical behavior of the ones who I chose to be in charge. I can’t trust the ones who were voted in this time will do the job for me. They can’t. I’ve known the ugly truth that people can be bought, that politicians are bought, that the ones with the money buy and own this country and they make happen what is in their interest. According to democratic principles it’s possible for the average person to determine the rules of the land. But does it happen?
Most of us were raised to obey our parents, our teachers, our protectors of the law. As we swallowed our mother’s milk we were utterly dependent on this source of food for survival, and we generally obeyed the rules to get to this source until we grew old enough to take care of our own survival by offering our labor, our skills. We don’t hunt, we don’t farm to produce our food anymore—yes, even farmers go to the store to buy most of their food — we sell our self-reliance in the process of getting our food.
Obama is right when he said in his farewell speech that self governance is the underpinning of our safety. But America isn’t about self governance any more. The Native Americans were self governing before the white man came. The white man stole what belonged to everyone and started the system we have now. This country is owned by a few. Those few didn’t plow and sow, didn’t hunt and live close to nature to know what could be hunted without disturbing the food chain. Those few enslaved others to do their plowing and producing. They made their claim for land and resources, a bigger claim than they needed to survive. The white man escaped European power-hungry monarchies to become American power-hungry corporations. We worry about the wave of heroin addiction sweeping this country, while power addiction has been eroding the moral order of our society for two centuries. Will the balance of power of the constitution prevail and prevent total disintegration of this society? Not if those holding the scales are the addicts and need their fix of power at any cost.
Obama said, democracy can buckle when you give in to fear. The average person in this country has been thoroughly alienated from their sources of survival, the land and its resources. The average person is lost without access to a grocery store, without a car to transport their inactive bodies to the places where they buy what they need. The average person lives with fear, fear of losing their money, losing their home when they lose their money, losing their access to supplies when their car doesn’t start. Because of this fear the average person wants more, more of everything. More money in the bank, stock market, real-estate in case it all crashes. More stuff in their homes, more food in their fridge to safeguard against that hollow feeling of not having control over their lives
We need to get back to self governance, the underpinning of American safety, to alleviate the fear that is the river that runs under this society. I will look out for me and for those that are dear to me, for you and for everyone who wants a chance to be heard. I will do the ordinary things of living: walk, move my body to stay healthy, I will grow food to supply my pantry. I will repair the things I own to make them last. I will go out in nature to know my true dependence. I will create community where I live so we can support each other. By doing the ordinary we all can get back to that extraordinary feeling of being charge of our lives.
We spoke up in Southern Oregon and have an expanded Siskyou monument, a vital piece of nature’s diversity. We spoke up and we have protection for the Klamath river for the next 20 years from strip mining. Keeping the earth and the rivers safe, matters. I will march, sign petitions, refuse to hate. I won’t watch the inauguration. I will listen and look for opportunities to support the causes that matter. I will live and avoid doing harm as much as possible.
What will you do? Let’s start a conversation and join the list to the right