We just returned from 12 days in Wyoming and South Dakota. For a city girl, it was a new experience – seeing the land as a living being. Mountains pushed up from the earth, mines carved out of the earth. Animals roaming free and eating off the land. Crystal-clear rivers and lakes refilled each year by snow melt. The jaw-dropping vision of the Grand Tetons appearing around the bend of the road. The artistry of snow-capped mountains reflected in pristine lakes.
I have never done, or even thought of, a pilgrimage. But as I look back, that is exactly what this trip was for me. It was a spiritual time.
We visited local museums in small western towns. We read letters from real people describing the old west. We read about the Native American culture to whom the land is a spiritual being. When we got to Devils Tower, we read the signs asking tourists to not disturb the prayer scarves that covered the trees on the trail below the tower, as they were put there by native Americans in prayer with their earth.
I thought a lot about what happened to the native Americans while I was on their land, and I continue to do so now, recognizing that Florida is rich with native American history as well. A new opportunity for me to learn.
If I am describing an idyll, I intended to. That is what I experience – beauty, peace, and life.
There was another side, though. The wild west is, apparently, still wild. Political opinions were omnipresent. Some were filled with hate. Many were expressed as love. But all were “dug in” to their own perspectives.
In Deadwood SD, citizens close two blocks of the road in the morning and stand watch as children walk to school. We talked with them and mentioned how awesome it was that they did that every day. A sweet lady in a neon vest explained that they treasure their children and families there….and added that she was disappointed that our country didn’t have that same values.
I had to process that because, while it sounded so beautiful, there was an undercurrent of commentary on the larger country that seemed somehow negative.
Then we walked on and went to breakfast at the Franklin Hotel on Main Street. A restaurant patron proudly boasted his ten-gallon cowboy hat and his t-shirt that said “F**K Biden.” The undercurrent I’d heard from the school guard jumped up and bit me.
That was in the first few days of the trip. I saw clearly throughout the two states where they leaned politically. That t-shirt design showed up on flags and banners. My wise husband kept reminding me that it was their right to display their sentiments. I don’t begrudge the public right to an opinion. I am ashamed that our country has slipped into nastiness. I remember being appalled by the Dixie Chicks’ statement about President Bush. That was tame.
For the rest of the trip, I struggled to deal with the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing. A few hundred years ago, non-native Americans saw an opportunity for wealth and moved in on land that wasn’t ours. We removed those who lived on the land and proceeded to take it over.
Would we call that the ultimate “cancel culture?”
Yet here we are promoting the narrative of the right way to live – truth, justice, and the American Way – decrying those who, either by choice or by circumstance, live their lives differently.
Did we lose our humanity, or did we ever really have humanity?
It strikes me that our country was built on the premise of “cancel culture.” Conformity to the core narrative is expected. Anything else is ignored…or perhaps canceled?
We took over land that belonged to others. We embraced the bondage of those who we thought were less than us. We enact laws to protect the rights of everyone. Yet while we generally stick to the letter of the law, our social construct has found ways to continue to demand adherence to our narrative.
So as those who have not fit the narrative find their voice becoming stronger and stronger, their voice is now being accused of canceling the narrative. At least it seems that way to me. But I will admit that I am in a place of profound cognitive dissonance right now, trying desperately to make sense of where we are as a people, as a country.
Is there a way we could stop using provocative labels like “cancel culture” and get to the real issue?
A more profound question: do we want to?