Blue Skies and Nightmares
The end of the Rehoboth summer season elicits both a sigh of relief and a wistful look back at memories of it, now rapidly fading into all of the other summers that have come before for it.
For a moment, there is peace and calm in the contemplation of September sunshine and a clear blue sky.
Then I remember that same clear blue sky on a September morning 16 years ago, marred by the twin towers of smoke rising to blot out the sunshine of a beautiful day.
I don’t know why my memories of that day are so wound up in blue skies: the shocking juxtaposition of beauty and destruction, maybe? To this day, the particular light of certain September days opens the floodgates of my mind and the towers fall again and again.
We have pretended to normalcy in the intervening years, but we’ve never been quite the same. A new tower has now risen over lower Manhattan, beautiful in its own right, yet at the same time more fragile looking. I still miss the strength and bulk of the twin towers, but in the end perhaps the shock was simply how fast they came tumbling down.
Looking out the window as I write these words, the September sky is once again 9/11 blue, and though I cannot see smoke, in the west the skies are darkened by it. In Texas the people in the Houston area continue to struggle in the devastating floodwaters of hurricane Harvey. In Florida and the Caribbean millions flee the destruction of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In Mexico the earth is shaking again.
Strong as it looks, our planet is a fragile home that we have long taken for granted, but what happens when she becomes unbalanced and the waters rise, and the temperatures rise, and the storms grow ever more intense?
In DC, The skies are once again 9/11 blue, but the painful destruction this time comes from the deep divisions among us. In our reality show government we care more about winning than the good of the country; more about party than people.
Our American founders created for us a strong foundation with checks and balances for maintaining fair government. As we move deeper into the 21st-century we must strengthen that foundation and not destroy it, and at the same time come to grips with the intense force of life in the electronic age and the effect it has on our democracy. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, had no conception of Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the Internet, nor of the tremendous power generated by them for both good and evil.
Learning what it means to be an American in a global environment can be unsettling to some. Our last election illustrates how fearful we can be of losing our identity—and how easily those fears can be manipulated. America is no longer the white, Christian nation it once was, and that, to some, is terrifying.
9/11 changed the world in ways we have yet to fully understand, but I wonder if mixed in with all the lessons we have learned from that day, if we have failed to understand the fragility of believing we are too strong to fail.
Americans are eternally optimistic about our role as a world power, but have we forgotten that throughout our history courageous men and women have risen up all along the way to keep us strong and protect our democracy?
We believed in the strength of the twin towers; American innocence died as we watched them fall.
Now more than ever we need great leadership in America, and we need to admit that neither party has all the right answers. The Republican Party has discovered already that its dream of controlling all three branches of government has turned out to be a nightmare of infighting and turmoil.
There is truth on both of left and the right, and balance in the middle.
Great leaders understand compromise and the need for reasoned debate. Great leaders inspire hope, give comfort in time of crisis, and rely on the wisdom of experienced and unbiased counselors.
For many Americans, politics have become too much to bear, and they simply pay no attention. Half the people in our country did not vote in the last election.
For those of us who spend our time working for the good of the communities in which we live, we have no choice but to continue to do our work. At CAMP Rehoboth that means that we will always work for equality and respect for all people. In recent months we have seen how fragile our rights can be, especially, right now, for the transgender members of our LGBTQ family.
For those of us involved in the leadership of CAMP Rehoboth, we cannot rest on past success. Like our nation we need to strengthen our foundation and at the same time find ways to adjust to, and take advantage of, the rapid changes taking place in technology. Like our CAMPsafe HIV/AIDS testing teams, we need to find more ways of reaching out to other cities and counties in our state. In all areas we need to expand the diversity of our leaders and membership—race, religion, sexual identity, age, and disability.
At the core of the CAMP Rehoboth mission and vision, is a belief that we create the most positive change by simply living side-by-side with people who are different from ourselves. That means that we have to keep reaching ever further out into the larger community around us—and celebrating every blue sky that comes our way.
Murray Archibald, CAMP Co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth, is an artist in Rehoboth Beach. Email Murray.