My Inheritance as an American
Jonathan's sadness at the ongoing division in our country is met by a hope that becomes visible in the unity of his friends.
What has struck me about these times and the election is that there is no place that you can be unaffected by the divide in this country. I live on a court, which is a group of houses on a private street in Brooklyn. On my right I have neighbors who are millennials with a “Black Lives Matter” poster in their window. Directly across the court from them are my other neighbors who have hung their Survivor of the Shield American flags out. These flags have a blue stripe substituted for one of the red stripes and are given to children of officers killed in the line of duty.
No one says anything. But I feel a tension and sadness every time I go out my door and leave for work and wonder what is happening to my country and my city.
I remember the New York Encounter this year: Crossing the Divide. And I see that this divide is personal and comes closer to touch my life. As I am from a secular Jewish family, I am often confronted with this seemingly uncrossable divide. My mother is sick, and my sister is taking care of her. I am a Catholic, and although I am not an extremist, I do worry about what seems to be an elephant in the room sometimes concerning the values and positions that conflict with theirs. But I focus on being present, on being close to my sister and mother, and not on who’s right or wrong.
I work at a parish in Brooklyn that is largely Latin American and Chinese with some English speakers who are mostly Trump supporters. My pastor is a man of deep faith, and in this place, I see him able to cross the divide. And what crosses this divide is the depth of the calling of Christ who reaches beneath all of this to affirm something deeper that connects us all.
Last week a group of families and friends went on a day trip out to Pennsylvania, the Poconos, to be exact. We had lunch, went on a walk, and had Mass. It was a beautiful autumnal day near a lake with the trees ablaze with color. This is rural America and a battleground state, deer hunter country. Again, I could see the divide. Here there were almost exclusively Trump/Pence signs. Two hours away back in New York it is like being in another country. I still think we here in the city have no idea the life of these people.
Yet, the priest who celebrated mass for us spoke in his homily of how a seminarian he knows received calls from his mother and sister, both tearful after they had fought about politics. Ideology tears us apart. We need to understand before everything else the depth of what it means to be human and the saving love of Christ that saves us from raw justice.
My wife, Susan, and I went away happy from this day. Why? It was an experience of simple friendship and joy and freedom. In this Fraternity group everyone is so different. We come from so many different backgrounds and political viewpoints. We are Italian, Irish, Jews, Asian- and African-Americans. We live in rural areas and urban areas. But on days like this there is a visible sign of unity like the one at my parish. This is cause for hope for me, and I must remember this as a starting point to discuss the election. I am more convinced as I age that this unity will survive no matter who has power, and my confidence that we can cross the divide begins here with this depth of friendship. Here, the freedom I experience, is my inheritance as an American.
Nevertheless, sometimes when I ride my bicycle with Susan out towards the Verrazano bridge for exercise after work and then return to see the great skyline of Manhattan rising up from the sea, I think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Though I have hope, I do live a deep sorrow towards what we have let happen to us as a country.
I choose to live with both sorrow for our great sins of forgetfulness and violence and hope for His greater promise because I believe keeping that both these things in my heart are the keys to my conversion, the way that this hard heart can be more filled with mercy, truth, beauty, and the love of Christ. It’s kind of like living in exile, like the people of my heritage, as they were held captive in Babylonia: Sorrow, but with our hearts full of the promise of the One who chose us. The people we love and belong to is nothing less than a lasting sign of a Meaning stronger than my anxieties and fears, a sign of new life in the desert.
Jonathan, Brooklyn, New York