From The Asian Reporter, V29, #21 (November 4, 2019), page 7.
Revising American exceptionalism
In brown and black and blue
Part 2 of 3: Both kinds of knowledge live here
This essay is a three-part try at addressing America’s sudden
uncertainty about our exceptionalism,
in a world of hurt. Does a Great America, make us a good people? Part 1 was an
acceptance of what an extraordinarily materially productive people we are. Daily
also, America produces ferociously competing streams of knowledge. But as a
society, we simply don’t make enough love. I mean kindness. The former kind of
wealth comes from manhandling material stuff; the latter is the result of
relationships — intimacy with each other, with our precious planet, with God —
however we individually or communally experience what’s sacred.
Our eastern horizon overwhelmed me. So unspeakably blue. As our suriya sun
rose over Central Oregon’s and Washington’s basalt and granite mountain rim,
what remains of Mount Hood, Adams, and Jefferson’s hard deltas of snow, went
from gray to pink to white. And as they did, I let lie my three-inch thick
Sunday Times, because I knew with a certainty as old as our geography that
these three revered elders have always known how to make healthy and happy all
our familias. Native and settled and New American alike. Together. We’ve lost
faith in them, media competes well for my attention, pero these peoples’ hearts
haven’t skipped a beat.
How do I know that they know? — Another easy accounting. On an edgy Saturday
night a bit before my Sunday morning story, I was on our couch. Twisting and
turning. Trying to relax. I intended Netflixing myself to sleep, pero CNN
swallowed me whole instead. Their snare: a U.S.-Mexico border live feed. Then
another from coastal Italia. Anxious moms’ eyes and humiliated fathers’ brows,
screaming boys’ and girls’ mouths wide. And lifeless people lying undignified on
sandy shores, the way we all do when you’re not ready to die.
I don’t know how long I stayed stuck there. With them. Our people. But I can
say how quickly I punched my remote’s mute — hearing brown women and grown men
weep, hearing the keen of kids’ abandoned to fear, jets me there. To them. To
where our sorrow braids, real tight. Seemingly defying the physics of time and
Likewise, I can’t tell you how I got off our couch, into socks, shoes, coat
and onto I-84 eastbound. Though I can say, with total certainty, that I was
urged east by an old and sure knowing carried inside our ancestors’ bones,
blending into the living knowledge of this auspicious place, stewarded carefully
by her indigenous peoples. And so, away from Portland I went. Into River
Columbia’s sacred gorge I was driven. Without a doubt.
I shut down dear Apsara, our tidy little white Toyota, outside a closed gate
with a sign that read "Park Opens 5:00am. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers." She let
out a long warm breath, I sipped a quick cold one, popped out, hopped over that
gate and walked into a delicious dark. Ears and feet took me toward where a
thunderous stream of Mother Columbia heaved out of a slightly opened dam
spillway. Old-school outsiders like Ibu Columbia, our revered elders, and my
unsettled generation know all about darkness and power, about iron gates and
thick walls. They last only a little longer than those signs. Not so long, ever.
Our other kind of knowing
Down a curvy narrow road, beyond several empty parking lots, over a grassy
berm, down a steep embankment, out at the rock rip-rap barely containing our
black-as-night river, someone had a big fire going. A hungry one. Wood cracked
crazy, orange sparks raced each other toward heaven. And beyond, roiling clouds
taller than that dam, thick as rain, rolled from Bonneville’s spillway onto
shore. Inside this elemental exhalation of carbon and hydrogen, stood eleven
men. Four gray and bent. Seven more. All hands deep in pockets.
All were swaying to music well known by both tidy lab-coated physicists and
by circular mystics. It’s the same knowledge. A perennial unifying knowledge
about a vast universe packed with only apparent differences. Differences
birthing and propelling each other. Black and white, day and night, are not
opposites. Predator and meal, oppressor and poor, good and bad, are actually
natural and necessary. As far back as ancient Vedic Lords Shiva and Vishnu (The
Destroyer and The Creator), our ancestors and elders have known about this,
about everyone’s and everything’s metaphysical interdependency.
It’s only lately that our commercial sectors have accumulated the
institutional capacities necessary to make unprecedented wealth out of our
differences. We’ve substantially acquiesced as mass consumers of their ideas and
products. So have our click-on "friends" and cool communities. So different,
this all is who and how we are back home in our sending countries, right here in
our vigorous ethnic streams, urban and rural and Indian country alike.
River People. Orang Sungai we call these old peoples, all along our
3,000-mile, 13,000-year-old archipelago. You can tell by their ease smack in the
middle of our at-once integrating and disintegrating cosmos, that they belong to
N’chi-Wana (Great River, in ancient Sihaptin). And right here, on account of the
relentless can tidily set out for you — a small band of Orang Sungai were.
"Hey," one of them said, a young guy with thick blue-black braids and teeth
badder than mine. "Hey," I said. He opened their circle, I slid in left of him,
right of a tall orang in wool plaid, red and black. We were now twelve.
No one spoke. Maybe because N’chi-Wana roaring and fire cracking were
decomposing every just-birthing thought. Leaving nothing forming words. Maybe
because like all gatherings around traditional grandmas and grandpas,
everywhere, no one talks until an elder speaks to you.
I don’t know how many minutes or hours passed. But I can say, how every so
often everybody with a backside toward Ibu Columbia, turned their river-soaked
sides toward our fire. I can say how they steamed. Like laundry hanging in late
morning sun, back home. After several cycles of this, I tried to say "Grandpa,
Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandpa," addressing all four. "Silahkan. (If you please.) I
I tried shouting it, but a blast of super-ionized hydrogen atoms bonded by
jet engine exhaust filled my mouth. So I said it instead to abang (brother) Red
Plaid, on my right. He said nothing. A bit later I got an elbow from my left. My
raggedy teeth bud handed me a Budweiser. A Bud Light. Hip pocket warm. Meaning I
supposed, that I should stay.
I pulled out a pack of Dentyne gum, cinnamon. I held it high, nudging him a
little foil-wrapped segment with my thumb. "DA-AMN, THESE’RE GOOD" — a cupped
hand against my temple. I nodded back, big like a horse. He and me now shared
deferred dental maintenance plus a love of cinnamon Dentyne. I handed him my
pack and chin-pointed to the next-over guapo. Likely we didn’t have enough to go
around, pero okay. Another story we share.
A little or maybe a lot later, his cupped hand and cinnamon breath were near
again. "WHY THEY MAKE THESE SO PUNY IF THEY’S SO GOOD?" I did two big
shrugs. One for each kind of knowing. I’ve asked myself that question, many-many
To read part 1 of "Revising American exceptionalism," visit <www.asianreporter.com>.
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