At President Obama’s public inauguration last Monday, Richard Blanco read his poem, “One Today.” Blanco’s theme of unity really resonated. “One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores.” We are a single people joined together. “My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors.”
Each inauguration prompts good feelings roused by America’s tradition of peacefully passing on the presidency every four years. Regrettably, those good feelings often quickly dissolve as partisan disagreements resume. But if we focus on Blanco’s words and some earlier words that perhaps inspired them, we might hold our more negative passions in check and find ways to break through the bipartisan deadlock that so afflicts the nation.
I cite Deuteronomy 6:4: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are instructed that God is one and indivisible. So too, Genesis 1 reveals that the created world, complex as it is, is a single entity following on from a single Creator. We see Adam and Eve as humanity’s common parents, and Noah and his unnamed wife as our post-Flood ancestors. Diverse we may be, but ultimately we are all one family.
In this regard, the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) provides a quite beautiful teaching. A person can stamp out many coins with one die, and all the coins look alike, whereas God created humans from a single set of parents yet each of us is unique. We know from our own experiences that members of a family remain individuals yet are bound together.
I appreciated as well Blanco’s choice of greeting that Americans use as the morning sun rises—“hello, shalom,/buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días.” By all means, add additional favorites. All are valid, because all reflect the many ethnicities, which form and reform the complex America nationality.
So where might this take us? Let’s play off the Mishna’s coin analogy. Every coin has two sides. Yet each is a single object with a single recognized value. So, too, our public debates have two sides. Often more. Yet those debates consider the wellbeing of a single nation. More than one way exists to legitimately approach a particular problem.
At the end of the day, Blanco writes, we head home “always under one sky, our sky.” We are a diverse lot to be sure. But diversity offers us many experiences and points of view—and more opportunities for meeting our challenges. We do better to listen to each other and seek common ground than exploit differences in the certitude that we, and we alone, have the answers.
Blanco concludes that hope awaits us—“ a new constellation/waiting for us to map it,/waiting for us to name it—together.” My thoughts return to the Sh’ma then drift to the nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.
A mash-up of words strikes me. E Pluribus Echad. By meshing basic truths both religious and civic, and adding a reasonable measure of humility, we can give the American Dream more than lip service. We can give it new life.
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