Thursday, November 1, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

By Dennis Sherrard

The image to the left of this text is a picture of the Great Seal of the United States of America.  On the banner in the eagle's math is the Latin phrase we all learned in civics class:  "E Pluribus Unum", which translates to "out of many, one".  The seal has been around since the 1780's, and it means that our country, made up of of many is united in purpose and spirit.  It is a lofty objective, and we know over the course of our history a very fragile reality. The country was physically split for 4 years during the Civil War and we came close to seeing the union of our people dissolve.  It took perhaps the greatest president the country has ever had, Abraham Lincoln to keep our country knitted together.   It seems however, that unless there is some cataclysmic event, we don't act very united. 

We are a diverse and vast nation and people with as many different perspectives, views, beliefs, as you could likely have in a single country.  For the most part it works fairly well as we generally go about our business and leave each other alone.  We understandably associate with people of our own beliefs, locations, interests, etc. and as a result we see factions arise that puts distance between our fellow citizens who might not look like us, worship like us, sound like us and well, you get the point.  The issue is exacerbated this year as it is an election year and we see ad after ad about how bad the other guy is and we see the country divided politically to the point that the other guy is no longer the patriotic opposition, they are the enemy and somehow not as American as the other fellow.  It's a shame really, as we can accomplish so much together when we act together.  It saddens me that the "normal mode" of our behavior is fairly insular and closed-off from others.

This week, an event changed that "normal mode" even if just for a couple of days.  Hurricane Sandy, a media described "Frankenstorm" ravaged the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States from Virginia up through Connecticut.  New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest, with the results being over 80 deaths, millions out of power and thousands displaced from their homes.  It is another in a serious of devastating natural disasters that have occurred in this young century and like Katrina before it, Sandy has taught us something about ourselves that is worth discussing.   New Jersey cities, villages and sea side resorts were destroyed.  Atlantic City has been decimated.  Hoboken, a commuter city close to New York has over 500 million gallons of water, fuel oil, and sewage flooding its town with over 25,000 stranded.  Staten Island lost 19 people, 2 of them small children swept from their mother's arms by the flood water.  Over 8 million people across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island for a couple of days.  The trains, subways and airports were closed down in New York as they were flooded.  There is an estimated $50 Billion dollars worth of damage done to the states as a result of Sandy's power.

What happened though, what changed us from being Texans, Ohioans, Californians, etc and turned us back into Americans, was the response to the storm by the leaders of the states and the country, and the outpouring of assistance from the general citizenry through donations or through direct involvement.  Tanker trucks, Electrical Generators, National Guardsmen, and many, many other things have been brought to the ravaged area from as far away as California.  People at the Red Cross have sprung into action working with FEMA and the various state emergency response teams to help those stranded get evacuated to safety, find food, get health care and provide something as simple as a hug and an assurance that "things will be OK".   The President, The governor's of New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Connecticut have thrown politics out the window and focused on what needed to be done.  All of these people responding to the tragedy, whether firefighters, emergency medical technicians, utility workers or anyone else didn't stop to check some one's faith, their political affiliation, their sexual orientation or their skin color, they just did their jobs.  Think about this for a  minute.  People rushing into danger to rescue other people they don't know; people donating to the Red Cross to provide help for people they will never meet, might not like if they did meet them, and might consider them completely abhorrent under normal circumstances, but in this case, it doesn't matter.

Why does it take a major tragedy like this to bring out as Lincoln said:  "The better angels of our nature"?  By sheer evidence of our actions during this time we know innately we have this level of goodness within us.  Why can we not marshal this behavior in normal circumstances?  Think of the power of a unified people engaged to solve a problem like education or poverty?    I don't know the answer to those questions but I would very much like to know why the best in us seems to stay buried unless there is a catastrophe.

The storm has made it's way up to Canada and is working itself out. But, the damage to property, life and emotion will remain long after Sandy has been blown out to the Atlantic.  Our fellow Americans in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and the other affected states need our help.  Call the Red Cross and donate money if you can. Donate a pint of blood if you can.  Keep these people in your thoughts and prayers.  Thank a first responder even if you are a thousand miles away from this event, because like those first responders from Queens who watched helplessly as their own neighborhood burn to the ground, then turned around and jumped into the storm to rescue those who needed it, that first responder might be the one that comes for you when you need the help.  Please find a way to donate if you can.  We will have a long hard recovery for our brothers and sisters who live in these decimated regions.  I hope we can keep the notion that "out of many, we are one".

My favorite quote from a historical figure is from John F. Kennedy when he was addressing a potential devastating threat, albeit man-made:  "For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s future, and we are all mortal.”

Help out if you can.  Here's a link to the American Red Cross:

Tell me what you think.



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