Where do we go from here?

  • "Long and dark line-shadows cut across the nearby forest floor. A plane drifted through the blue sky above, past tree stems that looked like upside-down roots — an image that seemed to mirror the topsy-turvy emotions I’ve experienced this last week." Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2021 8:54:57 AM

Today, I stepped out my backdoor, away from the steady barrage of disturbing images that has invaded my screen and mind in recent days, to sit on the porch steps for a little while.

The air was chilly and refreshing. Sunlight blinked down at me from the eaves. Birds chirped. For a little while, I watched as a squirrel searched for its dinner in last year’s leaves. Its bushy tail flicked and flowed like a dancer’s graceful accent hand. 

Long and dark line-shadows cut across the nearby forest floor. A plane drifted through the blue sky above, past tree stems that looked like upside-down roots — an image that seemed to mirror the topsy-turvy emotions I’ve experienced this last week.

I cried while watching a violent mob overrun the US Capitol on Wednesday. Not because I’m a “snowflake,” but because I’m completely invested in the welfare of this republic, America, and I understand the implications of what has happened.

There is no going back.

 My great-grandfather, Papa Joe, was a Filipino national who immigrated to Boston as a cook on board a Navy vessel. He went on to seminary and then rejoined the military as a chaplain because he believed in the vision of America — as a place where dreams can come true; as a free and equal society; as a place where all people and races and nationalities can exist together in peace; as a melting pot of culture where you can order award-winning Tex-Mex, American-Chinese food and thin-crust pizza made by your neighbors within a mile radius. 

I’m not naive.

America has an incredibly dark past. But from that darkness has immerged hope — carried forward over the centuries by countless selfless civil leaders and unsung heroes; from that darkness, grace and generosity, championed by Americans, has changed the world. I believe in the vision of America laid out by Martin Luther King, Jr. — that it can be a place of peace where everyone is given a fair shake at life. 

The siege of the US Capitol brought me sharply back to reality. The side of America the world watched in horror is America; it’s always been America.

Wednesday’s attack-from-within feels like a blow to the country’s moral foundation that will define a generation, maybe more. For much of my adult life, from serving in the military until now, I’ve pretty intentionally devoted a lot of effort to try to make it work for everyone. Watching an angry mob tear apart that vision — some completely ignorant of the damage their actions caused — was disheartening to say the least.

It’s January.

Snowpack has settled across the yard like skin. Geese roam the horizon in sprawling formation.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a friend who immigrated from Europe about a decade ago. I was the first American to congratulate him after his naturalization ceremony — it was an honor, for sure. He was proud to be an American — like my great-grandfather was proud — not because of its military power or its red-white-and-blue branding, but because he recognized what makes it special.

Hope.

If I could have captured the sparkle in his eye or bottled up the emotion in his voice, I’d be taking a triple shot today. At this historical moment, I find it difficult to feel any sort of national pride for the country of my birth.

In this, I find myself faced with two options moving forward: to resign myself to the present or lift my gaze to a more verdant future. While it may not feel like it right now, the vision of America that prompted my Papa Joe to leave behind everything and sail to an unknown county is still alive.

It’s alive in the hearts of people who understand what really makes America great — it’s alive in the compassion of veterans who, even in retirement, continue to care for their comrades in arms; it’s alive in the passion of school teachers who clock into work during a global pandemic; in the hands of doctors and nurses, janitors and construction workers; it’s alive in the dreams of immigrants and foreign nationals, bus drivers and postal workers; in the aspirations of students; it’s alive because of the efforts of social workers and poll volunteers, lawyers and activists, who remain faithful in their work even when nothing seems to change; it’s alive in people of myriad cultures, identities, professions and political affiliations.

This diversity is America’s greatest strength.

But it’s a delicate balance. Democracy must actively be nurtured; it always has and always will. Meanwhile, whenever you tire of the journey, remember that — perhaps just outside your back door — nature is waiting to replenish your reserves. 

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be  reached at acastillo@recorder.com.




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