The View From Southampton Beach By Al Burrelli
But our failures in all these situations will not occur because we are a people with political and social differences, but rather they will occur because in the attempt to resolve those differences, we resort to demonizing our opponents. We meet, not as equals, but already as enemies. Our political verbal wars are peppered with language like, “liar,” “crook,” “traitor,” ‘hypocrite,”and worse! But we shall pay dearly for this breakdown in political civility, because without that civility, we will lose one of our most powerful weapons against anarchy and social disorder, and that weapon is the integrity and moral character of our leaders. If they fail us with their continued toxic confrontations, we will have gone from Brokaw’s, “The Greatest Generation,” to something that might be sardonically called, “The Dysfunctional Generation.”
And so, my return to the beach at Southampton is shadowed by a darkening sense of the future. Those settlers, so long ago, withstood unspeakable hardships as they crossed this ocean sustained only by their dreams of a new life in a new world. The national journey that followed has not been without setbacks and reversals, but it has endured, and it is the historical line that marks the search, both theirs and ours, for a new Eden. Much that we have done as a nation has not been done without error, sometimes egregious error. Too often, our history should have been different and better.
So I fear that, as a nation, we are losing our way and that the best parts of the American Dream may be behind us. The problems of the present age are so daunting that we easily long for a return to the past, a past that always seems purer, more pristine, and better than the present. But maybe, human nature is simply not ready for life in a Utopia! What would be the point of going back, if we were to find ourselves thrust out and banished again from a second Eden?
I am reminded of my literary hero, Jay Gatsby, the idealistic central character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby believes that the past can be re-visited and its broken pieces put back together again, allowing him to re-start his life and live it as he had always wished. Though he does not succeed, no reader will label him a failure, for Gatsby had invariably tapped into the defining element of the American experience: the capacity to dream. Rightly or wrongly, Americans believe that change and renewal are always possible. We have lived by that credo for generations. But today, there is a sentiment metastasizing across the land, that asserts that America is in a state of decline. And that possibility, if true, is forcing us to seek answers to questions we thought we would never have to confront: Is the American experiment over? Are we in the last chapters of our history? Can our past be re-visited for clues that can help us solve our present dilemmas? What if we finally discover the way to our long-sought Eden, but when we got there, are met by a sign that says, “Gates Closed!”?
With these thoughts running through my mind, I stood up and walked down to the water’s edge. I looked again at the horizon. I felt myself suddenly gripped by the notion that if I concentrated hard enough, and wished hard enough, I knew I was romantic enough to believe that I could see those settlers’ ships coming back over the horizon again! But of course I saw nothing. I turned to walk back up the beach when a few flashes of white sunlight at the very edge of the horizon caught my eyes. It was sunlight being reflected off the white sails of ships, large sailing ships! Yes, I could see them! I could see them clearly now! And as I watched them come closer and closer, I was overcome by the last trace of hope and optimism that I had left in me, and I whispered under my breath: “Gatsby, look! The ships! They’ve come back! Maybe we’re being given a second chance! Could we really start over, Gatsby? Do you really think that we could find our way back to our beginnings?”
But there was no answer. Only the silence of the waves.
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