Nothing In Common (Chapters 5 & 6) unedited

Chapter 5: God Country And Family

God, Country, and Family were the cherished priorities that people sacrificed for and the essence of what made us great as a nation. Based on a strong moral code, developed from deeply held religious and/or ethical beliefs, many Americans put their individual family’s welfare second, as they marched off to war in defense of their country.  Was there politics involved in these wars? Absolutely!  All wars are fought, at least in part, due to political differences.  Not fighting these wars, because you disagreed with the politics of the time, would have resulted in a fundamentally different America than the one we live in today — if an America at all.

From the Revolutionary War onward, men, and in many cases women, dropped their hammers and sewing needles, put down their ploughs, stabled their horses, and answered the buglers call to defend all that was dear.  They were proud and willing to do this because the bigger picture was apparent, a picture that took precedence over their own individual well being.

Today, the bigger picture stares back at us from the mirrors we gaze into, reflecting false and hollow images of what we’ve become.  What we used to be as individuals was always reflected and then magnified in who we were as a nation, our individual strength truly manifested in our service to something greater.

           Something Greater Than Just Ourselves

It was this belief in something greater that drove us to create the true ‘Miracles’ of the past 250 years. These Miracles of science, manufacturing, art, and technology were never seen before. They became the mainstays of American life and propelled America to its leadership position in the free world, a position we are fighting to hold onto today.  Guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights …  freedom in America was the right of each, and every, individual citizen. It was the source of our national pride, and if called upon, we would have died to defend it.

If you had talked to a man who worked on Hoover Dam, or the Great Northern Pacific Railroad, you would have heard the pride in his voice.  This pride stemmed from having been part of something so grand and something so much greater than he would have ever been able to accomplish on his own. These are just two examples of what made America great and pushed her to the forefront as the envy of all the world.

The Chinese stood shoulder to shoulder with the Irish, pick axes in their hands, as the great rails were laid down pointing westward toward new and greater prosperity.  Among the many nationalities that accomplished these great things, there were always differences and petty squabbles — and the occasional altercation … but the big picture was always in focus.  It was the big picture that they agreed upon because that’s what was most important.  The big picture would carry them together to places they could never travel to alone, and on this they always agreed.

              The Big Picture Was Most Important

By putting their personal disagreements aside, they moved mountains, laid rails, built bridges, and dammed rivers.  Unfortunately, many died in the building of America, but it did not stop the new volunteers from signing on.  There was something being done here that had never been done before.  Setting your past lineage, cultural differences, and religious beliefs aside, to work together on something this special, was a small price to pay.  It was a small price to pay for becomingtruly American!                                        

American, not just in name — as many are today —but American in the deepest parts of who you really were and who you wanted your children to be.  Out of this commitment came men like Nathan Hale who spoke these immortal words on September 22, 1776 …

     “I Only Regret That I Have But One Life To Lose For My Country

Hale’s belief in the future of America was a ‘rallying cry’ uniting the strength of the individual with the purpose and collective will of the nation.

                 Where Is That Unity Of Will Today?

Chapter 6:  The Pot That Melted

As a young boy, I lived in a row home in a working-class neighborhood.  The smells and sounds coming from each house were different, but the laughter and good will were the same … and they were shared among all. When together at a barbecue, holiday party, or family celebration, or even while waiting for the bus to go to work, their laughter was infectious.  

Mothers walked their young children to the small parochial school that many of us attended.  As they walked together, you could hear in the intensity of the many accented languages a fervent hope. It was a hope that it would be their son or daughter who would one day grow up and be President of this great land. And if not President, someone in whom they could truly be proud, and someone who would make a difference.  They were willing to put their own personal interests aside and sacrifice for this, many doing without so that their children could have, and experience, the things that would light their way to a brighter future.

                      The Fathers Did The Same

Every morning, after they said goodbye to their children at school, they knew they had just dropped them off at the doorway to a world that was better than any that they, or their parents, or grandparents, had known.

Many of our parents and grandparents spoke different languages, ate different foods, and sang and danced to their own kinds of music. These differences were superficial because one thing was crystal clear growing up in my neighborhood and that was nothing … N-O-T-H-I-N-G was more important than being a good and loyal citizen to a country that had given you so much.  If you ever were caught dis-respecting the flag or your elected leaders, you could count on being reprimanded by everyone, and that reprimand would probably be delivered in five different languages.

               But The Meaning Was Always The Same

My first grade Nun (and school principal) was Sister Rita Marie.  Sister Rita Marie saw neither the color, the nationality, nor the relative wealth of any of her students. All the good Sister saw was ‘raw possibility!’  It was the innate potential within each of her students that Sister Rita Marie first saw, and it was this potential that defined and unified us as a class as we progressed from grades 1st through 8th.  I’m sure it was by a great design that no Nun ever had a last name. You could only guess at her nationality if she had a name like Sister Peter Mary or Sister Clara Agnes.

Our days in Catholic School always started in front of the American Flag,
with our hands over our hearts, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Religion was next and that meant studying the Baltimore Catechism. Within its pages were all the lessons that one needed to learn to live a good and upstanding life.  Sister Rita Marie never failed to end the morning’s religion class without a morality lesson, one that would apply to our real world outside of school, and one that our parents had probably learned some twenty or thirty years earlier.

                      And Often From The Same Nun

Religion class would set the tone and get our young minds right for the arithmetic, english, phonics, and civics lessons that would follow later in the day.  We didn’t always behave, but we did agree on what was right and what was wrong.  We knew this because we had a devoted teacher who not only taught these principles but lived them in front of us in her daily life.  How I wish I could have just one more morning with Sister Rita Marie and be able to ‘film’ her magic and be able to spread it over the confusion that involves much of our educational practices today.

                     I’d Also Like To Thank Her Again

The basics were always stressed in her class over the fringy and sometimes transient occurrences that only served to mislead and confuse.  She also explained that there was a ‘nature of goodness’ that ran through all of us, and she knew that in her heart because inside we were all the same …                       

The thing that my small Catholic School (St Thomas Of Villanova) shared with my neighborhood was that it too was a ‘Melting Pot.’  It was a melting pot of the differences that only served to divide us.  We learned early and well that respect for our elders, country, and especially ourselves, was a fundamental building block for all future success.

Two plus two really was four. And if you sat up straight with good posture at your desk you would see the truth, and the truth involved knowing that lying and cheating were always wrong, no exceptions! On this we all agreed.

                                   No Exceptions!  

The moral principles we learned in school were not only necessary for us to be good citizens, but were also a great source of comfort in a world that could be confusing to a young child.  No maybe this, or maybe that, Sister Rita Marie was emphatic with her teaching, and there was something inside all of us telling ourselves that she was right.  We learned early that all of life’s actions come with consequences, and these consequences can either be good or bad depending on which path you choose.  Many a boy thought he got away with, or pulled something over on the Nun, only to have his hand slapped by her ruler as she walked down his row of desks reading from her text.  She did this normally without even looking up.
These lessons were constantly reinforced because it was upon these principles that the greatness of America and the salvation of our souls would depend.  We also learned that the seemingly little things were not always little, and what appeared big and overwhelming was often an imposter.  Most importantly, we learned that what might be impossible for us individually to accomplish, we could almost always attain together.

                                       … together!

We had no individual sports in my school, everything was as a team.  It was in the magic of playing together as a team that this message of what’s truly possible was best taught.  Sister Rita Marie constantly reminded us that there was a ‘heritage’ involved in our very existence traveling back through our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents ad infinitum.  This heritage was ours, and ours alone, and was to be respected and revered.  It could also be shared and often was. One of the boys in my class had a father who had played Major League Baseball.  Mr. Duffy shared his experiences growing up and progressing through the minor leagues and into the BIGS many times with us. We all felt connected and proud based on what he shared, and we also felt closer to each other as a result.

The worst offense you could ever commit was to bring dishonor or shame upon the reputation and good name of your family.  You might not be wealthy in a material sense, but the reputation of each family was sacred and was treated as such. What started as a concern for the reputation of your family was transferred to your friends, your team, your neighborhood, and your school.  You knew this was of value because everyone in your world from the shop keeper to the policeman reinforced it every time you saw them.   The things that were accepted, or not accepted, were either accepted by none, or accepted by all.  

What Values Can We All Agree Upon And Hold Dear Today?

As we progressed through the grades, the differences in each of us not only faded but became integrated into everyone else.  Every kid learned at least a few words in Italian from Mr. D’Angelo, and every mother in the neighborhood wanted to be able to bake as well as Mrs. Bonds. Mrs. Bonds was French, and Mr. Bonds had met her while in the Army during WW2 when the G.I.’s liberated Paris in August of 1944.  She could bake and she could sing.  We all loved her, as she would prance around her kitchen in her fancy hand made aprons singing French folk songs. She would wink and call each of us boys or girls ‘Mon or Ma Cherie’ or ‘Mon Ami’ or ‘Mon Amie’ as the incredible smells of her baking took over the neighborhood.

The melting pot had another advantage in that it happened without our noticing it.  We seamlessly learned at a visceral grass roots level that we were all the same.  We believed in, and wanted, the same things, and we were willing to work together to get there.  After all, with great examples to follow like Sister Rita Marie … how could we fail?

  Where Is That Leadership And Unity Of Purpose Today?  

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Submitted by KurtPhilipBehm on May 13, 2024

11:16 min read

Quick analysis:

Scheme A B X C X X X D X E C A E F X X C G X X G X XC E F X G X D X C X B F X X F
Characters 12,723
Words 2,253
Stanzas 37
Stanza Lengths 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1

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