America was founded by the spirits of its pioneers; who uprooted themselves from the old world and set out to an unknown new world, where they believed they could make a better life. Even today this pioneering spirit lives on; as we remain one of the most mobile societies, where people will give up established homes and move for a better opportunity to an unknown new town or city. This spirit was what drew me here so many decades ago; when I moved my befuddled wife and confused children into a new existence, so far from where they were born. Maybe it was the open road that I had traveled on during my college years travelling across from New York to the west and back not once but twice over 2 long summers. Memories of the highway miles speeding by as one rolled across the eastern sea plain; to the endless prairies, and the desserts and the mountains across magnificent canyons, and slept on the shores of wondrous lakes of fresh water, to the amazing cities springing up in the wilderness. I learnt its history first hand; and found that the weave of the American quilt is unique, and the pioneering ladies who made up the early quilting bees, often had this as their sole source of socializing in their new homes.
Life on my return was different; as there was a family to provide for, and a home to build. Moving into a modified log cabin with minimum facilities; in a beautiful lake town, was the first anchor among many that came later. Commuting to Manhattan that I dubbed ‘maya nagri’ in my native tongue, or the city of masterful illusions, I was just another worker bee, servicing the queen bee of commerce and wealth. It drew in people from all over the world; and its financial systems had tentacles spreading across the globe, and the big money center banks were too complex, for even an MBA to understand. The NYC metropolitan area melting pot had communities from all over; and the cuisine was as varied and the languages spoken on its subways as diverse, and the cultural events held on weekends celebrated, long lost customs and festivals of the old world. There were many I found who lived in a time warp; raising children in old values, that even the countries that they had left behind, had forgotten or consigned to the pages of history. Thank God for the American High school as its bands marched on with their rousing Sousa marches; and the sport team played the local teams in rivalry games, that the die-hard fans could rattle off stats on for decades or more. Here the melting pot really worked; and kids picked up the accents and the mannerisms of the age and locality, as they slowly emerged as Americans at the end of the experience. Dual lives were lived by the immigrants as at home there was a different life; and in school it was a homogeneous amalgamation of shared experiences, and the spirit was infused and the young minds molded into a new world feeling. There were social divisions and prejudice; and all the ills of modern social interaction, but they were tempered by a common goal and a shared knowledge, starting each morning with the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States starting in elementary school. Irrespective of religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds you learnt what it meant to be an American. The Greco Roman facades of some of these institutions are testament to one of the greatest education systems ever built. They are as much a part of the American quilt, as apple pie and the Star Spangled Banner.
Most of my working life was spent in the pursuit of the mighty dollar, in what we simply called the city. Everybody understood what you meant when you said you were going to the city; as there was no confusion, as nowhere else in the world did such a confluence of five boroughs exist. Over time Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and their neighborhoods became household names familiar like an old aunt or uncle. Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, Columbus Circle, Central Park, garment district became a part and parcel of life, and all that it had to offer. Identities merged with neighborhoods and life’s events were woven into a tapestry of locations and seasons and relationships, tied as much to a time and space, as an event. New Jersey was our home and the extended family became the focal point, of visits and celebrations. Births, marriages, deaths, graduations, divorces, anniversaries became the gathering points to discuss life and what pain, misery, joy or happiness it provided. Children grew up went on to college; and then took up professions and settled down with families, or otherwise branched off into their own lives. The American quilt grew; with its myriad pieces stitched together, and each new member contributed their own experiences into the larger whole.
Today it has become its own diaspora as the family is dispersed from the East to the West coast with some spread out like dots on a GPS map in various states in between. Not everyone is a failure; and neither is each one a roaring success, but sufficing it to say that they are largely middle class and the heart and soul of the spirit of America. Opportunity knocks and they answer with reluctance to give up the old, but then embrace the change and move on. The oldies may question change and these newfangled ways; but even they have to concede, that the spirit is alive and well. They may regale on some occasions about their own struggles and times that they went through, and do not realize that the next generation has to live through its own struggle and make their own lives as best as they can. They are not content with just a comfortable life that our struggle can help with; but must strike out on their own and build their own, in the American way. The quilt may become frazzled and unravel at times, but then someone has to make the effort and stitch it back together again. I look outside at the manicured green lawn and the large hibiscus bush; that adorns some of the apartment entrances, in small town Arkansas. We have standardized life and it could be anywhere in this vast land; and I realize that long as I can afford the rent, I could move anywhere that has gainful employment and live the same experience. The internet connects me to the world and smart phones and new devices connect to the TV, and the world is a click away. Circumstances caused me to move here; but it could have been anywhere else, and I would still lead a similar existence. Mediocrity and homogeneity are easy to adapt to when the society is developed; and we find pleasures in small differences, that bring flavor to one’s life. A particular film, play, show, book, magazine, town, TV channel becomes the definition of our individual preferences, and who we meet and interact with depends on it. Then as needed we uproot ourselves and start all over again and having traveled many miles; often find ourselves living the same life, in a new place.
So now the spirit is rising again and as my wife says; I am showing all the symptoms, of becoming antsy again. Where will I head off to this time I am not sure, but the time is not that far off that it will happen again. I do not want to change and would love to live this way in comfort and certainty about my tomorrow, but I know God and this universe have other plans. We live in the world of the spirit; and this physical manifestation, has to learn to adapt and change. If we allow it to define us, then we lose the point of this existence. Listen to the calling of your spirit, as only then will you give up this old world, for the new. Opportunity is calling, and to seize this moment is the only hope. I am, but in the end I am not this alone. The past is gone; and the future is uncertain, so this moment is it. Live it, love it and lift your head up to the heavens and bask in the glory of the sun and let the spirits move you. Weave your quilt with care and then leave it for others to carry on the work, and your spirit will live on in its beauty.