Most folks (especially of Irish decent) are familiar with the term “Irish Wake”. For those needing a refresher course, it started with the Great Famine/Great Migration of the Irish, many of whom emigrated to the USA (and anywhere else) to escape hunger and suppression. They were well aware that once they moved to a distant land, there was no looking back. It was doubtfull they would see their Irish family and friends again. So they scheduled one last big party to see them off and say their Good Bye’s. Few of the folks from the “Old Country” ever reunited with their fellow countrymen. However, sometimes when they did, it was difficult to re-connect. They still shared common origins. They shared memories of good times. But there was “water under the bridge”, changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes (to steal a line from a Jimmy Buffet’s song Margaritaville) and as American author Thomas Wolfe said “You can never go home again”.
Fast forward to contemporary America. We are not fleeing to a distant land (or are we?). Today there are cultural, political, attitudinal differences that separate us by many miles even though we live amongst each other. We shop together and travel the same streets but seem to be driving in completely different directions. We have fond memories of good times together. There were barbeques to attend in summer and Christmas presents to open in winter. There was the nightly news when we generally agreed with Walter Cronkite as he signed off with his signature expression “And that’s the way it was September 11, 1968 (or whatever date it happened to be). Bumper stickers on cars were limited to announcements of a mountain climbed or a beach visited. Now the back sides of vehicles are overflowing with hateful, vindictive expressions of angst. Any conversation that veers beyond the bounds of the weather and sports deteriorates into a grudge match pitching differing versions of reality.
And that brings me around to the American Wake. When irreconcilable differences of reality and attitudes preclude any sense of commonality, maybe its time for the American Wake. Let’s celebrate the good times we experienced and the reasons we got together in the first place. Let’s keep the door ajar for some future time when we can truly listen to each other, respect each others opinions and get back to normal (whatever that was). But maybe it’s time for a good old fashioned wake to acknowledge a watershed in our relationships where we “agree to disagree but not be disagreeable”. Is America at a fork in the road facing the binary decision of turning left or turning right? I offer the American Wake as more of a rotary where we can circle in the center with the option of peeling off from this relationship merry-go-round when confronted with untenable perspectives that are an anathema to our existence as a democracy.
And on that cherry note, let’s schedule an American Wake!