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America Needs to Sober Up

The gifted “New York Times” columnist, novelist, and writer, Pete Hamill, battled alcoholism for years. It dramatically influenced every aspect of his life and nearly destroyed him. In one his books he tells how he would senselessly sit in a bar for hours and drink himself into a stupor. He writes, “The world was a grand confusion. Finally, when I was drunk, and my mind couldn't do what I wanted it to do, I went home. I would lie alone in the dark, feeling that I was a character in a story that had lost its plot.”

I know that feeling, literally. Many of us do.

But figuratively, it has great meaning, too. For me, it is such a profound description of where we are in this broken country of ours.

A beautiful and gracious nation, we are nevertheless floundering in our own “grand confusion.” We are drunk with some powerful inebriating fury and dysfunction that leaves us incapacitated, unable to do what we really want and need to do as a people. From our highest leaders to the lowliest of us we too are characters in some weird story that has no plot.

For most of our history we have been so much better. What genius we have revealed. What dazzling inventions we have discovered. What grand glorious advances in human evolution we have made. What precious acts of compassion we have shown. What goodness has been in our identity.

And yet, today, we demean ourselves in some beastly deformity of soul and spirit. Neighborliness is completely lost on us. Manners are scoffed at and replaced by a crude, impolite shamelessness that makes the world look on us with disappointment and alarm.

In all the places where professionalism, courtesy, tolerance, and grace should exist—in our halls of Congress, in our houses of worship, in our financial institutions, in our vast retail stores, in our insurance agencies, and elsewhere—we find instead the worst kind of greed, indifference, arrogance and incivility.

When we are literally drunk we are a danger to ourselves and to others. When we are figuratively drunk the same holds true.

We have consumed too much pseudo power, too much smart ass hogwash, too much poisonous apathy and alienation, and it has left us dull witted, testy, and obnoxiously self indulgent.

Drunks can be funny at times, usually only briefly. They can be sweet and say the most revealing things. But after a while they often turn ugly, or weepy, or mumble on incoherently and are ignored.

That seems to be where so much of our nation is today in its drunken state. Wall Street and the big banks and the financial sector are booming but the hilarity of it all is tiresome for most Americans. The silly goings on in our politics are all completely stale and the loud goofy endless campaigning and stumbling around dressed like Thomas Jefferson and Betsy Ross and all the arm waving and back slapping for votes is now irritating and disruptive and disgusting.

America needs to sober up. We need to get off the bar stool and be a responsible nation again. We need to rediscover the brilliance of our story and our place in it.

What we are doing now is insane, and frightful, and meaningless.

The world is changing and people need to accept that and not be afraid of it. We are learning more about one another and that is a good thing. People are coming out of their long forbidden secrets that we have kept them in, our gay family members and friends, those who question the church and its teachings, well settled immigrants wanting citizenship, people weary with materialism and consumerism and just wanting to be real, and we should celebrate that and not try and escape from it in some mindless ideological stupor.

Sobering change is what we desperately need.

Sometimes the real beauty of life is so deep you have to go into the darkness to find and understand it. Some of us know that search and sometimes alcohol has been our attempt to get there.

We are there now as a nation.

In those befuddled nights, alone with his thoughts, Pete Hamill became aware of his desperate need for some personal change. In his drunken state he was given insight into his anguish. And he learned from it.

Social philosopher Eric Hoffer once said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

I want to be one of those learners. I want to be alert and ready to live in and face all the stunning changes coming our way. I want to find my place in what may very well be an incredible story still to be written.

© 2013 Timothy Moody


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