I wrote this a long, long time ago. I'd like to think the older you get the more it means, but I have no proof in support of that contention, just my faith that such a belief is true. But I've learned that faith will take you only so far in this life and no farther.
As countries go, the USA isn't particularly old, especially in comparison to some of the nations of the Orient or the traditional "Great Nations of Europe". This July 4th, we'll celebrate our 240th birthday. But the nation we are now and the nation we were when we told the most powerful nation in the history of the world (at that time) to go stuff itself, the United Kingdom, are very different nations.
We are different, obviously, in the size of these United States-back then we were thirteen colonies with about two and half million people clinging to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern shore of the North American continent. Look at us now-over 330 million of us occupying a nation that sprawls from the Atlantic to Pacific (Gee, the traffic is terrific) and beyond, when you count Alaska and Hawaii.
And we, the people, are very much different from those traipsing around here in 1776. To start with, we no longer own one another (I think that should be considered a positive development) and all those over eighteen (and not 21 and not property owners) are eligible to vote (whether or not we do is another matter, sadly).
And while we are one of the more diverse countries on earth (I like to think that means each of us has been told to go back to where we came from at least once in our lives), we have paid a price for no longer living in a shoe box.
You can read the same studies I have on how many houses we'll live in, how many different jobs we'll work, how many different schools our children will attend. I won't bore you with excerpting from those reports (which are nearly as numerous in number as we are) except to note that biologists tell us in the course of seven years we renew every cell in our bodies, so perhaps we shouldn't be as surprised that the country we grew up in is, by the time our kids are adults, very different than when we were their age.
Alexis De Tocqueville who intimated the United States was as much an idea as a nation-state would, I'd like to think, be pleased with what we've done in the 160 plus years since he finished Democracy in America (and I dug up the University of Virginia's version not only because, I, too, am cavalier about history, pun intended, but the sections on Everyday Life in 1831 and race, help place that America in a larger perspective to where we are now.
We seem to spend so much time fixated on what we don't have and who we aren't. We look at our national leaders and regret that 'he's no Abraham Lincoln' or 'she's no Eleanor Roosevelt' and forget, in their time, neither were they.
Besides, more often than not, we can use a little more Millard Fillmore and James Garfield (and I don't mean the concert venue or the cartoon cat, but you knew that, right?) in our everyday lives.
If we mourn not living in heroic times, it's not because we don't have enough heroes-perhaps it's because we don't have a large enough frame of reference to realize who they are. Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive (if you can) and meet me in a dream of this hard land.