Cutting across the pine and oak tree paths scattered throughout the campus was likely the first time that I experienced the feeling.
Coming of age in a small town had left me unprepared to be counted among the 25,000 people who – communally, and in one generation – had turned this sunny, suburban setting into the hardened, street-wise, every person for themselves institution it had quickly become.
It occurred to me, as I walked by the main lecture hall, the one nearest the student union, that I was really quite alone here, despite the all too many times I instinctively had to step aside for those racing from one end of the quad to the next. Even the six hundred student lecture hall often felt more like some solitary confinement than a place of shared learning.
I learned to accept the alone time, learned, even, to embrace the Balkanization that came so naturally, so ironically, to such a grand public university.
E pluribus pluribus, I suppose.
In many ways, we as a people have been on a similar path for some time. We still coexist in a common place, in a common era, one that once chased after so many common goals. And not long ago, few would have snickered at the idea – and the ideal – of life in a small town. Neighbor caring for neighbor, doors left unlocked throughout the night.
But today, divisiveness is the rule, hatred our common currency.
Decency and civility were long ago relegated to all things quaint, even as politicians and corporations, journalists and scientists, fall over one another in a race to show just how enlightened we have become – yet we still continue to bash each other into a deadly silence.
Our goals no longer neatly align, our methods diverge completely.
We have always rightly cherished our hard-won independence. We must always continue do so. At the same time, we would do well to begin searching for ways to re-embrace our shared heritage, to look once again for those things that long ago created a movement as much as a country. We are, after all, still tightly bound together.
And we will remain so, either in hope or in death.
Image Credit: Pixabay