Enjoys long walks through urban ruins. Goonies, explorers, archaeologists, Fraggles, TMNTs, taphophiles and disenchanted Americans welcome. Hobbies include treasure hunting and getting lost in the woods. The land already connects us. The sky unlimits us. Step away from your vehicle. Step into the world. Come skywalk with me.
I know you’re out there.
I know because I saw the spark myself, and you saw it, too, when many young Americans experienced something in the past handful of years or so that I hadn’t yet witnessed in my lifetime: shameless love of country. We got tired of hearing ourselves threaten to move to Canada, worn down by guilt and bored by cynicism. We attached to the potential of newness that didn’t whitewash the past. We connected to an idea and to each other, and that connection lit us up.
But that shameless sort of love-and-pride isn’t sustainable. Ideas are transient, colored by events and context. We go back to work. Or war. Or walking the dog. Routine. That’s life. Only life is different now, because we’ve tasted the proverbial honey. We know what it’s like to care and believe and there’s a vacancy in us now that the sweet spot has passed. It was never so much about a campaign as it was about a connection, and as Smokey Robinson will tell you, a taste is worse than none at all.
And so I walk. Here’s why: On one particularly strange day in 2011, I found myself stepping off of a ferry and onto an island-turned-mass-grave, resting place for the bodies of nearly a million indigent and unidentified New Yorkers. I’d been invited to this otherwise off-limits burial ground — 131 acres of uninhabited land that once served as the site of a Civil War POW camp, a quarantine zone, a prison and a drug rehab — by a few city officials and one very feisty next-of-kin who’d come to pay her last respects. Her brother’s remains had been lost, you see, tilled into the soil, presumed forgotten.
Given the island’s history, we’d expected to step into a haunting, but it wasn’t at all the dark and morbid vacuum we feared. It was beautiful and quiet and expansive, overgrown with wildflowers and rich with history. It was sacred ground. It was unifying ground. We made eye contact, asked questions: the mourner, the voyeur and the policy-makers, finally bothering to get to know each other. Though we were the only people there, as far as we could tell, we felt the presence of everyone who had ever had lived and worked there, of the hundreds of thousands who never left. We walked with such mindfulness. We loved the land and wanted to care for it because it meant so much more to us than its real estate value. It meant that life matters, that people matter, even when we’re long gone and yes, maybe even forgotten.
This, I think, is the honey we are hungry for.
We want to feel connected — to each other, to those who set precedent, to those on their way — and I’ll be darned if our connective tissue has been here all along, so ubiquitous and obvious that we’ve forgotten to simply look down. I believe that the key to growing and sustaining a love of country, independent of current events, is through connection with the land. Gravity agrees. Even if we can’t maintain conscious contact with the earth, it’s hard to avoid physical contact. We are, after all, (scientifically) drawn to it — and what’s more, we instinctively want to get to know it. Beachcombers powering up their metal detectors and kids digging holes in their backyards are doing more than hunting for lost coins or shortcuts to Shanghai. They are fraternizing with their foundation. That’s what I believe.
I invite you to discover a patriotism that has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with place, an intimate connection to our homeland that is, quite simply, an intimate connection to the land itself. We’ll find it in mines, in tunnels, in abandoned buildings, in graveyards and courtyards and our very own backyards. We’ll find it in small towns, big cities, deep in nature. We’ll find it right under our feet the minute we just start walking.
Step away from your vehicle. Step into the world. Come skywalk with me.