The Forgotten Americans

Because of the almost universal experience of grief, I’ve met people from all over the world. Well, “met” might not be the proper word since we’ve never met in person, but over the years, you get to know people as well as if you had met in person. In fact, the people I have had occasion to visit, are exactly the same, and our relationship exactly the same as it was online. We simply continued the conversation we’d started via the internet.

People elsewhere sometimes don’t really know what life is like here in the United States. The news media is only interested in sensationalism, and the quiet lives most people lead have no interest to anyone beyond their communities. For example, the governing body of Colorado has no interest in my corner of the state, and in fact, often enacts legislation to our detriment. Admittedly, we are scant in numbers compared to the nearby big cities, so what happens here makes no difference to the rest of the state, and our voice is seldom heard. We are the forgotten.

It’s the big cities that people are familiar with worldwide, but even in big cities, there are large neighborhoods where people quietly go about their business. They don’t start fights, don’t shoot each other, don’t do much of anything except work so they can afford to live in those peaceful neighborhoods.

I might be exaggerating here because I am as ignorant as the rest of the world when it comes to current big cities. I grew up in Denver and spend my early adulthood there, but back then, the once-upon-a-time governor (who came from Texas, not Colorado) had yet to “imagine a great city.” The president’s son had not yet helped destroy the savings and loans business. The Denver International Airport fiasco had yet to be perpetrated on the taxpayers. And the Californication of Colorado had not yet begun. And so Denver was a great city. A great city to grow up in, that is. It was more of a cow town than the major player on the world stage that it has become.

Although the USA has a reputation for being a war-loving country, generally only Washington DC and the military-industrial complex are gung-ho for war. (Even people who join the military are often shocked when they find out they actually have to fight. The recruiting officers tend to focus on career and education opportunities.) Traditionally, going way back to the Civil War, Americans have to be coerced to fight. We are peace-lovers. Most of us have no objection to helping others in need, but mostly, we want to stay home and take care of our own. Most of us don’t understand why Washington sends money to countries that hate us.

We are often vilified for spreading American culture, but those so-called American businesses that are supposedly spreading American consumerism around the world are no-longer American businesses and haven’t been for a very long time. They are global corporations. Many of us here have no money invested in those businesses (many of us have no money invested anywhere; it’s all we can do to survive from paycheck to paycheck). Some of us don’t even patronize those businesses.

Most of us are not racist, which is why the media and academics need to keep changing the definition of racism to include more and more of us.

The international policies Washington puts in force are their policies, not necessarily the policies of we the people. And the most annoying thing of all is that these same politicians apologize to the world for us citizens, as if we personally chose to start wars or changed the immigration laws, or whatever, when in fact, they should be apologizing to us not for us.

This ended up being much more of a rant than I intended. Mostly I wanted to show that there is life in the United States beyond the horrors the news media project, that even though we are forgotten, we are still here. But then, if you’ve been reading my blog for anything length of time, you already know that some of us, me especially, lead peaceful, considerate, thinking lives.

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“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

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The Neighborhood Feel

Once upon a time, I lived in a what now seems a mythical city. This city wasn’t respected, wasn’t really considered much of a city at all. It had the reputation for being a cow town, and in many ways, it was a town, or rather, a town of towns. Each neighborhood was self-sufficient with schools, stores, libraries, all within walking distance. Crime was negligible because people in each town knew one another. Kids roller skated on the sidewalks, rode bikes in the streets, ran errands for their parents. And from wherever you stood, the mountains were visible to the west.

Those mountains were a constant presence, a compass so we always knew where we were, and most of all, a benevolent guardian. Violent storm clouds dumped snow in the mountains, sailed serenely over Denver where they gathered more moisture to dump on the plains.

And then it all changed. Californians fleeing their bloated state “Californicated” Colorado (as the saying went), and a Texas boy, with political aspirations and no loyalty to the area, “imagined a great city.” And so the town of towns slowly died. Smog enveloped the newly named “great city.” The clean drinking water disappeared and what came out of the faucets tasted like chlorine. Crime became rampant. People locked themselves away from the neighbors they no longer knew. And a burgeoning skyline that grew ever taller changed the climate. (Apparently, the storms thought the upward-reaching mass of buildings an extension of the mountains, and so heavy snows — once a rarity — became the norm.)

Jeff and I escaped the growth, searching for what we once had — a quieter, slower, friendlier life. We never found it, except in the life we created with each other. The neighborhoods we had grown up in were more small-town ideal than any small town we ever found. No one walked anywhere. The people in the towns we lived seemed closed, not just to us, but to each other. Cliques focusing around church or school were the norm, and outsiders weren’t particularly welcome. (When I left the town we’d lived for twenty years, the only people I had to say good-bye to were the librarians.)

I realized the truth of our Denver, then: that neighborhoods had been our lifeblood, and the neighborhood way of life was disappearing. I’d gotten used to the way things had become, and had thought the life we wanted would be forever in the past, so it came as a surprise when I once again found the neighborhood spirit.

In many ways, where I live now is like the neighborhood of my childhood. I walk to the library, run errands on foot, have the next-door friend I never had growing up. (I always envied those who had a friend living next door, and now I do!). There is a friend who lives a couple blocks away that I sometimes go walking with, and adding to the charm and the memory of childhood, we take turns walking each other home.

Because of this childhood feel, this neighborhood feel, I am sometimes affronted by the reality of growing older. What lies in front of me is (eventually) “the end” rather than endless possibility. But I am not at the end yet, perhaps not for many years, and who knows — I might find a widening of possibilities despite any creeping decrepitude. After all, I did find my way here.

It seems odd — and a bit sad — to have found what Jeff and I were looking for (minus the mountains or other places to commune with nature; there is nary a mountain to be seen anywhere in town). Sometimes I worry how he will fit into this house and this lifestyle, and I have to remind myself that he is gone. Ironically, his death more or less led me here. If “need” brings certain changes to our lives, perhaps he and I didn’t need this sort of lifestyle, but now that I am alone, I do.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.