I heard the laughter and felt the energy of the crowd that was gathering. My classmates and friends seemed drawn to the scene, and although I couldn’t look directly at them, I knew they felt that special something that was on the stage that afternoon.
“Yea,” quoth he, “Dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,
Wilt thou not, Jule?” and, by my holy dame,
The pretty wretch left crying and said “ay.”
I had memorized the lines and was saying them, but it was more than that. I was the nurse that day. I had made a connection with Shakespeare and I knew that the story the nurse was telling was a joke. She was telling a joke, and I knew what a joke would look like and sound like in 1996. I was able to bridge the gap that day on that stage with 1996 and old Shakespearean England with the nurse telling a joke. The cast and crew were laughing at my joke, at the nurse’s joke, at Shakespear’s joke. It was funny! It was a sex joke, and it was funny. The cast and crew have left that stage and moved on to other things in their lives, but I’ll never forget that surreal experience where I was able to tap into a script that was very old and to most of us, if we were to be totally honest, full of boring and obsolete stuff. For that moment, during that monologue, the script was not old, boring, and obsolete, it was alive and real and funny. That is probably the most vivid memory I have of my high school drama experience.
I’ve had a recurring dream the last few weeks. The setting changes and shifts. Sometimes I’m at Walmart, sometimes a shopping mall, sometimes when I turn a corner, it becomes a hallway of school lockers. The dream is always the same feeling. I am desperately looking for something. I’m trying to find my locker, my classroom, the perfect Christmas gift, the right pair of jeans…..I’m looking and looking and looking, and there’s this sense of unease that I’ll never find it. There are lots of other people and we are all doing the same thing. No one speaks to one another. We are all bustling around very busy with lists in our hands, searching and searching. What are we all looking for?
This morning I woke from my dream asking that question. What was I looking for? What were the other people in my dream looking for? I think I have the answer. We are looking for Mythic America.
When I was a little girl, I heard a story about a little boy who was playing in his backyard. He found his father’s axe, and walked over to his dad’s prize cherry tree and chopped it down. Later his father was very upset and demanded to know who had destroyed his precious tree. His son came forward bravely and confessed. “I cannot tell a lie,” he told his father. He received the punishment from his dad. Later that boy became the father of his country, the great general and President, George Washington. I didn’t particularly love the story, but I did remember it. I had vivid experiences of an angry father and being punished for childish mistakes. I had never done something so egregious as chop down a prized tree, so I could hardly imagine having so much courage as to confess to such a heinous offense knowing the wrath of his father was sure to be taken out on him.
The story taught me that my culture valued honesty and that sometimes being honest meant doing hard things that might have painful results. I learned that one of the most important values of our founding leaders was their commitment to being honest even when it was hard.
In my training to become a teacher we were taught that although this story was often told, there was no historical evidence for it. Therefore it was perfectly understood that we were not to tell the story and propagate the false tradition.
Really? Really? Think about the good things that story teaches! For generations teachers across the nation have lost a powerful tool to teach about our traditions in this country, to give children connection to a historical figure and the truth that honesty in our leaders matters. History, at least any history that means anything, is not made up of facts, it is made up of stories. Are we so dense as to think that our history is a collection of facts? More preposterous still, that those facts are somehow enough to carry our civilization forward? Our history, at least the history that matters, lives in our souls. It teaches us truth, not facts. Whether or not George Washington cut down a tree is not relevant, it was a story that taught a larger truth and made a connection with our past. That is powerful! The story that even an unlearned farm hand can sit down and tell his grandchildren in the sunset of his life that teaches values and makes connections across generations is worth more than a million history textbooks stuffed full of useless facts.
At risk of coming dangerously close to Rudy Guilliani’s gaffe, I am saying, truth is not Truth. Truth with a capital T matters. Truth with a small t doesn’t matter. As a society we live in the information age. We are drowning in facts that don’t matter, like whether or not there is evidence that George Washington really cut down a cherry tree. Some small t truths are dangerous because they lead us away from the big Truths and the vectors that carry those truths from the brain into the deep parts of the soul. Mythic vectors.
I don’t particularly care whether or not children are told the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. I DO care whether or not they learn that honesty in our leaders is important. I DO care that they make a real connection with our nations founders. I DO care that they understand Mythic America. If we take away the cherry tree story, we better figure out a story that teaches those things, that we CAN tell them. Mythic America used to live in the hearts and minds of our old people, and they would pass those truths down to our youth. Mythic America knit the generations together and gave us a common history and culture in spite of our diversity.
As tempting as it is to believe that the disaster in our executive branch and the resulting damage to our institutions is because of a single president, I can’t accept it. He is a symptom of a larger problem. We have lost Mythic America. We can’t find it at Walmart or even Amazon. We won’t find it in high school lockers or in textbooks. Trump supporters believe 45 is Mythic America! They are so desperate to find what has been lost, that they cling to Donald Trump like an orphaned child clings to a photo of his dead parents. They know the photo is a poor substitute for the parents, but it’s the best they have. They will not leave Donald Trump until we are able to offer them something better. We must find what has been lost if we are to save our nation and our world.
To be continued……..