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Oped: Some post-election thoughts on greatness
Make America Great Again. It's a phrase that quite possibly may be written down as the four words that define the year 2016.
It is a rallying statement, easily a cause to raise the volume of one's voice or accompanied with a pounding fist or pointed finger. It is obvious the speaker of the phrase is unhappy or unsatisfied with the present state of his or her America. It is obvious, too, that this greatness, which is to come, is a process still in the making. A greatness that will take some time, an ending that will take work.
What strikes me today, as I write this and, again, as I hang laundry with my daughter, is the translation of that very ending; the end result: Greatness. Make America Great Again.
My favorite dictionary, a red Webster's Collegiate (a real book, too, by the way, with actual pages stitched to a spine), defines "great" this way: "Large in size, Large in number, Considerable in degree, power or intensity, Remarkable, Famous, Of noble character, Admirable, Achieved importance, Enthusiastic in some specific activity, Skillful". I like Webster and his definitions. There is something calming and stable to me about having a concrete description of a word. But today I can't help tack on some of my own.
When I first think of this catch-phrase, Make America Great Again, I feel it must be pointed out and reminded that America, or any country or governed body, is primarily its people. It is clearly not stating North America or South America which, of course, are continents, land masses. It's rather a term that a governed mass of people use to describe or distinguish where they live.
Again my trusty red dictionary lists the first definition of the word "america" as "United States". Without people there is no need to have states unite. Animals and soil have no need of such boundaries, but we, for reasons I do not presently care to delve into, feel we must. Which, in return, makes the rally cry personal: Make Us Great Again.
My daughter stands in front of me, facing me, with a wash basket between us. The basket is full of wet, clean clothes waiting to be hung on our wash line to let the sun and breezes draw the moisture out as we continue to go about our day. We still have dough to make, homeschool activities (or, as we affectionately call it, creative learning) to accomplish, tadpoles to study and a book on Charles Darwin that we are both excited to start reading.
We have other chores that need our attention, as well as leisure activities we hope to attend today. But right now, she hands me damp clothes from the basket on the ground and I pin them to the line. I am curious to hear her seven-year-old perspective to a question I have been seriously pondering for the past two days.
Scarlet, I ask, what makes someone great?
Maybe it is something in my voice or my inflection or, maybe, she too has been deep in thought about these sobering concepts but, whatever the case may be, she doesn't shrug off my inquiry. I restate my question, Scarlet, who would you describe as a great person? Immediately she responds with a simple, quiet, "You." For some reason there is now weight in our conversation. We begin to name traits of the greats in both of our lives.
We use words like: honestly, kindness, intelligence, one that puts others first, a good listener; doesn't interrupt, moderation, not selfish, a respecter of nature and animals, someone who measures and cares about the affects of their actions, patience, values quality and quality time, encouraging, offers timely and trustworthy advise, helpful, wise, integrity, pays attention to details, makes others feel comfortable and welcome, sense of humor, humility.
As the words flow and we talk about and remember the great people in our lives, we share the memories and stories of how those greats influenced us and our thinking. We create a memory ourselves as the sun warms our faces and the conversation warms our spirits. We grow a little bit closer during our wash line chat. I learn a little bit more about what my child values in a mentor, a friend and a father.
I try to keep the dialog steeped in positive attributes but I am keenly aware that our descriptive words for our great role models exclude words like: powerful, forceful, intimidating or wealthy.
I ask myself, am I able to be great? Could it be that these character traits hold the same merit and importance in a nation as well as an individual? Can the global disposition be affected by me simply living out these values in front of my offspring; the proverbial "lead by example?" Or is it just two completely different inferences?
It seems that, at least on this crisp Autumn morning in a small Pennsylvania backyard where blue jeans, towels and socks wave like flags in the wind, virtue makes us great again.
— Flint Zeigler is a singer/songwriter originally from the Central PA area now living in York County. His website is www.flintzeigler.com.