Definitions are fascinating. We don’t get to decide what an ocean is. Or an insect, or a human, or a mountain, or a deer. But we do get to define them (what power!). We generally define them by their most notable, prevalent characteristics. The things that are most intrinsically and consistently “them” from the beginning of one day to the next, in saecula saeculorum.
The ocean is whales and plankton, sharks and seals, waves on sand and a handshake with the moon. The ocean is a list of glories too long to tell.
We do not define it by its pollution.
The body is heart and mind, skin and soul, laughter on tears and a dance with unknowable mysteries. The body is a vessel of beauty too vast to fill.
We do not define it by its cancer.
From the beginning of one day to the next, the beautiful bodies of the United States produce oceans of glories. Cub Scouts in nursing homes, churches feeding the hungry, neighbors helping neighbors after fires and floods. The corporations and sports franchises and police departments reach within themselves and outward into their communities to create healthy environments of access to education, employment, fitness and safety for as many traditionally under-served people as they can. New songs, poems, books, and stories are written every hour of every day; new paintings and sculptures are created. Indeed, the world of the arts is daily refreshed and brightened with more publishing opportunities and awards specifically targeted to the historically passed-over, the marginalized, the oppressed. The energy of the United States of America is, from the beginning of one day to the next, dispersed to the deepest reaches of the neediest depths of its own particular ocean of bodies, and is then spent in the recognizing, uplifting, spotlighting, and glorifying of all those who have been so difficult to see and hear over the centuries.
In its own stumbling, imperfect, grasping way, the United States of America has always spent its energy thus. Its cancers and pollutions have always been apparent and pernicious, and sometimes the cancer has consumed the organ or the pollution has choked the stream, but the country has never forsaken its scalpels or sponges. The body has thrived. The river has run. We have never, not once, let a cancer grow unfought or a pollution spread unchecked. We are an ocean whose full beauty is too deep to chart. A mountain of charity whose every peak is just a place to stand so we can see the next higher one.
Fascinating. We don’t get to decide what America is, but we do get to define it (what power!). We should define it by its most notable, prevalent characteristics. To say that America is defined by racism or that America is defined by injustice is to look at the ocean and see no water. To look at the patient and see no person. It means obsessing over dirt and disease in ignorance of the obvious. It means creating a definition out of caprice, malice, and self-pity, to the total exclusion of all of the beautiful things that are most intrinsically and consistently “us” at the beginning of one day from the last, ab initio.