By Aryo Winterblack
Wednesday, July 5th, 2017
Minutes before take-off, sitting in a plane again, this time traveling to Scotland via Brussels. Last night, while celebrating Fourth of July by coming together with friends and strangers who later also became friends in a park, I had an epiphany. It was a moment of pure revelation. Pertinacious tenacity, or rather, tenacious pertinacity and I'm determined now to jot as much of it down as quickly as I can, so that this idea can see the light of day even if my mind ceases to be lucid and sound. What I felt, I could never describe with words, nevertheless at the least I should try and try I will. Having said that, I'm actually wetting paper with ink, composing not with my phone but on a scroll and with quill. We're in the air now but still, if the plane crashes, on the way from Vienna or Brussels to Edinburgh, my memory will be of the past but this notebook may survive (since my iPhone is neither free-falling-out-of-the-sky-resistant and nor water-resistant, in the unlikely case of a water landing). So, since we've established the reason and the method for this outdated practice of record-keeping, we shall together proceed to the event in question. Without further ado, especially before this unseemly slippery slope culminating in my tragic demise by way of inadvertently going sky-diving without a parachute comes true, let's get to it. Yesterday, I had very little personal inclination to attend, let alone organize Fourth of July festivities of any kind. Given the current state of affairs and that abomination-of-nature occupying the highest public office in our country, I wasn't exactly brimming with pride, if you will. I felt disheartened and disenfranchised, maybe even ostracized. Alienated. And I cared much less about national pride and choking-up on stars-and-stripes and star-spangled horseshit (here meaning bullshit for those of my non-north American, English-speaking friends) than I care about the two rhetorical fragments-- the former in the sentence immediately preceding this one and the latter in the sentence succeeding the one that succeeds it. Nonetheless, t'was Fourth of July and I felt it justifiably audacious to neither lose faith and nor sight, even if I didn't know in which, and of what; it was simply important that I do not lose faith nor lose sight (this, by the way, follows the same pattern of logical thinking as the one that produced the idea of this notebook surviving a potential plane crash and my phone not-- all creations of my remarkably sophisticated imagination and evidently flawless mind). Even though the irony of celebrating a United States which had no resemblance to the America I had known and loved (like a violin unfaithful to music and to wine), and was incongruous with the very notion of freedom, was not lost on me, at this juncture, I still decided to put together a small picnic in Graz, Austria to revel in the adequate company of friends and strangers who later also became friends. We talked about the construing of intangible ideas such as time and we talked about how it is a man-made construct, not banal or trite, but not original either. We talked about what it means to be American, to whom, and why, and we laughed heartily about trivial, silly, and simple-minded jokes that were frankly so intellectually-lacking I'm afraid writing them down would be an unfair desecration of the sanctity of pen, and paper. Sometime in the middle of all of this lively coming-together of warm bodies, beating hearts and predominantly left-leaning, like-minded minds, perhaps precisely after I spontaneously decided to abandon the very event I organized and go instead for a goddamn swim in the Mur river with all my clothing still on ("clothing" here refers to a blue shirt, white-striped pants and red socks), it dawned on me: freedom is also a construing of intangible ideas such as time, therefore also fully deserving of the epithet "man-made construct." As I sat there in the river enjoying the warm summer day, I literally reflected at my own freedom of being in the Mur river in my underwear, in broad daylight, and, as the sun blessed my soul with positive energy and a light-hearted mood, I realized that if freedom were to depart from my life, it would render the very notion of life itself meaningless. Devoid of merriment and pleasure, uninhabited. Without freedom would life be incontrovertibly lifeless, without a birth anticipated. Freedom is and has always been an unshakeable and inseparable trait of life, of which, "the pursuit of happiness" is one of the main fundamental cries. Together, they form the cornerstone and bedrock of humanity regardless of her conjectures and their refutations, regardless of the growing distinction between humanity and humankind. The entire world seems to agree on this one thing (well, two things-- I'm sure that the recent advancements in technology and the sciences still affirm and attest to the veracity of two plus two equaling four), that the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" shall not be in vain, shan't be suspended, and mustn't be infringed upon.
In all honesty, I really did take my time in that river, basking in the cancerous and hazy-gold afternoon rays of the ever-loving sun, being grateful for that moment, for my life and its freedoms, for the people in it, the sun, vitamin D, and the nice tan (though I don't really enjoy the thought of the seemingly-inevitable yet not imminently-looming skin cancer), among a plethora of other things. Mostly I was grateful that the Founding Fathers decided to declare our sovereignty and independence in July, rather than say, January for instance. Boy am I grateful to the guy who decided that! Whoever came up with that idea is simply a great person and I'm eternally grateful to him. "I'm in total agreement of that decision," I thought to myself, "this is why people should brainstorm their ideas. I'm sure the whole Fourth of July thing was the product of vigorous brainstorming. Maybe it was that Hancock guy, he was always full of good ideas." It was in such a state that I returned to America's birthday party in Graz, my mind dismissive of the thoughts I had just had in order to be able to re-engage in well-natured, joyful banter.
Fast forward to an hour or two later, the sun yawning sleepily away, me and Julia cleaned everything up and headed home. After all, I had to wake up at 04:15 the next morning, catch a train to Vienna to begin my journey to Rome (sorry, I mean Scotland). On the way home, Julia drove as I let the 'ol flag wave happily in the wind, out the passenger window. Somehow the symbolic motion of a flag waving in the wind eerily filled my heart with an elusive and intricately convoluted sense of pride. Ah damn, we just landed in Brussels and I'm still writing. I have to deplane now (that's North American for "disembark" for those of my non-American, English-speaking friends). Anyway, I sat there in that passenger seat, holding that flagpole while yelling incoherent yet positive-sounding freedom-themed jargon at the good denizens of Graz unfortunate enough to maintain a residence close to mine, thus terrorizing the district of Eggenberg with a bit of "freedom," whatever the hell that means. Julia, being increasingly more intuitive and perceptive of my feelings (actually being so discerning to make me seriously wonder if she can read my mind), and evermore accommodating of me, offers to drive around our immediate neighborhood one more time, "one last 'victory round," she says gleefully, one last hurrah, hurray! Now, those of you who know me know that I neither get overtly sentimental and nor visibly emotional when it comes to national pride. Yet, in the spirit of transparency and being veracious-- that is a fidelity to facts and a truthfulness to truth-- let it be known that last night, that is exactly what happened. Sometime in that loop of passing my apartment time and time again, as the flag waved and waved self-righteously, I had a vision. I gazed at the flag brazenly dancing shamelessly, and observed something that both my American and my non-American friends fail to see in it. I saw, but an emblem of justice for millions of the oppressed, now themselves oppressors. I saw, a crest for the fallen and a semblance of hope for the persecuted, a sliver of light in a sea-to-shining-sea of darkness. I saw a treasured promise of a better life to those who had never tasted its forbidden rapture. América used to stand for something, what happened to all that sanctimonious talk of protecting the vulnerable and holding responsible those who victimize others? Wasn't it us who tried to teach the world about the meaning of justice through immortalizing lost crimes? If there is the attenuating twinge of hypocrisy muddying our good name, isn't it worthy of reformation, to reemerge from our sordid lows to our mordant highs? Criticism is not necessarily always synonymous with vitriol, patriotism doesn't spell-out: "roll-over and conform," and to question, to ask "why," is the highest form of love. This flag has endured and persevered, but has also deviated from this self-proclaimed path of righteousness; we no longer have any right to claim the moral high ground-- I don't know if we ever did-- and we have long but reneged on the moral duties and the ethical responsibilities we owe to one another. To be American today is a burden yet a blessing, a privilege to be a part of a partisan paradise, a paragon of "peaceful" patriarchy yet somehow still a perfect paradigm of pain and passion, playful and permanent, plausible, but not palatable, poetic, not paramount. Polite, yet poignant, pitifully pious and proudly proud "so point that prose at another man!" Poised, not polished, powerful, and patronizing. Praiseful, but not prayerful, preferable, but not preferred, praiseworthy but never praised. America, the paradox of ostentatiously celebrating arrogance, forever unapologetic, and unabashedly impenitent. America: also a construing of intangible, yet increasingly unintelligible and contradictory ideas, mysterious yet plain, not cryptic, yet somehow inscrutable, yet somehow enigmatic. Don't forget: democracy is not a show you can watch from your couch; it's a participatory event. Don't forget: criticism is not an exhibition of hatred, but a manifestation of love, and respect. What I felt, I could never describe with words, but this is my attempt. Well, my dear America, a conversation is long over-due, but for now, happy birthday.
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