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Observations: I can still believe

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image My life in this snapshot of time is totally different than it is today. I’ve learned that nothing can be taken for granted. And now the iconic countdown clock behind me serves as a reminder that life itself is counting down. There is no point in spending

I feel alone in my personal struggle, but I am smarter than that.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I am going through a personal crisis that millions of people go through, or have already gone through. Despite the shared experience, despite the phone calls, emails and text messages from friends and family, my mind has created a self-deceptive world of isolation. I know I have the love and support of family and friends. Yet I feel alone. I should be smarter than that because as things began to look their worst, I found myself surrounded by the people who matter the most.

It seems the entire world is in chaos. As millions of people lose their homes and go without jobs, our representatives in Washington bicker along party lines making an already unstable world feel even less stable. It is outrageous that a battle could erupt between political parties just when Americans most need leaders to work together to solve the very real threats to our nation. While verbal grenades are thrown via television news sound bites and chests are thumped in self-serving victory, America itself has been downgraded. That is not representation. That is not the behavior of men and women looking out for our children, our children’s children, America, or us. That is merely self-serving. No wonder America is fracturing. No wonder it feels as though we are alone. Watching the debacle between well-dressed, well-fed men and women in our nation’s capitol while we fail to find a job to pay the mortgage and put food on the table only serves to reinforce the notion that we are on our own.

Although America is known for rugged individualism, in truth America has historically been a land where people have pitched in. There were no government safety nets in the 19th century, but there were social safety nets. People pitched in to help. Towns rose from the hard soil of the prairies and forests of this great nation by people willing and motivated to contribute to something greater than themselves. They believed in the unlimited promise of America. But more than ever today, people are on their own. More than ever, it seems they are struggling. Most people still have faith in America, but it is much less focused than before. People just don’t know what promise to believe.

The space program is an example of faith in America. When the Russians launched the first satellite into space, followed by the first man in space, America felt down, but was most assuredly not out. In less than a decade, the entire nation had pulled together to accomplish something that no other nation on earth has yet achieved: We landed a man on the Moon. While Neil Armstrong’s first contact with an extra-terrestrial body was certainly a dramatic display of America’s rugged individualism, the truth is that it was anything but. That single step required thousands of dedicated scientists, engineers and even factory workers to make it possible. More than that, it required a nation that had faith. Big dreams need big support.

Much like today, the early 1970s were challenging years for Americans. Young men were dying by the thousands in a war that few people understood and an oil embargo set the nation’s economy on a path of inflation, with prices for nearly everything spiraling out of control and lines at gas stations that sometimes stretched for city blocks. Yet through it all, we continued to send men into space. We continued to land on the Moon.

The space program was outrageously expensive, but for weary Americans it provided a basis for faith that while the world seemed to be crumbling down, perhaps a better world was at hand. It inspired faith that something else was out there, something that perhaps would mean a brighter future. We had escaped the bounds of a troubled earth, something few people could have conceived only a few years prior. We were beaten down; but we were by no means defeated.

A politician did not make the first step on the Moon. Politicians did not launch men into space. Politicians did not invent the world-transforming device known as the personal computer. Politicians, in fact, being the fallible humans they are (although it seems they frequently forget that), have often failed us. As bad as the dysfunctional leadership appears today, things have been worse. At one point in our history, the political process failed to the point that Americans began leveling our own cities in a war that claimed 600,000 lives, the Civil War. When the dust settled and the dead were buried, Washington D.C. did not heal the nation, Americans did by pulling together and making something happen. We landed on the Moon. We changed the world with personal computers and the Internet. We did it ourselves, as Americans who believe that something better lies over the horizon, that the future can and will be brighter.

If this column stopped here, I have little doubt that emails would soon arrive out of both concern and anger that I failed to mention that our faith should be placed in God. To me, that would not only be missing the point, it would fall one significant step short. I do have faith in God — but more than that, I have faith that He gave us the tools we need to right the wrongs in the world (or at least make them righter). What’s more, I have faith that He has given those tools to believers and non-believers alike. My faith is so deep that I am certain He has already provided for us and thus, it is now up to us to prevail or fail.

I feel alone in my personal struggle, but I am smarter than that. I know that my family and friends are supporting me. I know that I couldn’t get through this without them. And although I can’t see it right now, I know that a brighter future lies just over the horizon. I have faith in it.

And so it goes for America, I think. We’re not alone in our struggles to simply get by. We have each other. For me, for anyone going through hard times and most certainly for the nation itself, the words, ironically enough, from 60s dropout William Gibson comes to mind:

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by a**holes.”

We all know the people Gibson described are out there, it would be naive to assume otherwise. But they aren’t the many. In an age where it’s difficult to know what can be believed, it is still possible to believe in America. It is possible to believe in us.

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