When a story is only a story

Individuals – whether persons, families, communities, nations – dwelling in time and space, by necessity, tell stories; descriptions of their histories, from whence they have come, and their destinies, where they are going. And individuals, in sharing their stories, seek to tell the truth…

Except when they don’t. Sometimes, a story is only a story. An imaginative, fictive invention.

Many are the stories Americans tell. One, in particular, the American Dream. Variously, though generally defined (particularly as a nation, at its founding, populated largely by immigrants and slaves): Through personal responsibility (a sense of duty), industry (hard work), and energy (ambition and determination), anyone can achieve personal happiness and material success. An operative image: A ladder on which one, day by day, climbs higher and higher (which, for the biblically-minded, may bring to mind the ladder of Divine promise of protection and prosperity that Jacob dreamed was set between earth and heaven[1]).

However, over nearly 250 years, the American experiment is not yet an American experience; for the opportunities and benefits are not enjoyed by all. For some – whether by age, disability, education, employment, ethnicity, gender, politics, race, sexual identity, socio-economic status, and combinations therefrom – the metaphorical ladder has broken, at times, missing rungs. An olden adage counsels that, when climbing, it’s best not to attempt to skip rungs, for, in haste, accidents and injuries may occur. Yet, when there are broken or missing rungs, one cannot climb at all.

Mohandas Gandhi[2] once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” In this, praying, one day, that the American story becomes the truest of narratives, the experiment becoming the experience of all, I continue to recite the words of Langston Hughes:[3]

O, let America be America again

The land that never was yet

And yet must bethe land where every man is free.[4]

© 2022 PRA

#theAmericanDream #storytelling #truthversusuntruth #letAmericabeAmericaagain


[1] See Genesis 28.10-19

[2] Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), attorney, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist, in his advocacy of nonviolent resistance in campaigning for India’s independence from British rule, inspired civil rights movements throughout the world, including the United States.

[3] James Mercer Langston Hughes (1901-1967), social activist, novelist and playwright, often called “The Poet Laureate of Harlem.”

[4] From Let America be America Again (1935)

2 thoughts on “When a story is only a story

  1. Just WOW! to THIS!! A story should ALWAYS be TRUE because without that it’s just Fiction. America for many people is a fictional tale!
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  2. Yes, indeed, it is — I believe it to be — true that America’s story (or rather what many Americans say about our country), for many, is a fictional tale. And, as in all things too big for me, what (all) I can do is to labor in my small ways, each day, and to work with institutions and organizations focused on universal betterment, to have America live up to our chosen creed of “live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all.

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