Let me cut straight to the chase.
Are you angry? Are you disillusioned? Are you bitter? Are you depressed?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Are you “pissed off?” Are you fed up? Have you had it up to here?
Well then, join the club. It’s a fraternity with many members – and hazing is its hallmark.
I’m calling this essay, “What Ever Happened to the American Dream?” because something has definitely hit the fan. In the past twenty years if not longer, I’ve been slowly taking note of this.
Despite the purity and innocence of what most of us perceive as “The American Dream,” we’ve gotten something twisted. Something has become warped and run awry. We’ve lost our way.
What is it? Glad you asked.
But first … how can we be the most blessed – and indulged – nation on the face of the earth with so many pissed off people?
Something isn’t adding up.
I think the American Dream has been hugely stressed by all of the pressure we’ve put on it. Seriously. It’s now being held hostage by so many things: rage, political divisiveness, lack of civility, selfishness, greed, hate, racism, sexism, social and religious intolerance … you name it.
We must remember that in the scope of world history, democracy is still an experiment. I was chatting online not long ago with an artist friend who lives in Europe. He said something that absolutely floored me …
“Democracy doesn’t seem to be doing so well right now!”
Upon hearing that, I felt like I had just taken a bullet to the gut. Wow. From the mouths of outside observers. All it takes is a friendly observation to shake you from your illusions of how you think things are. By the way, those are actually called, “delusions.”
But he’s right. We’ve made a huge mess of things. The rest of the world clearly sees this, but somehow, we don’t.
By the way, I’m always so impressed by the way many people from other parts of the world talk with us. They are so kind and so patient – despite the fact that we insist on putting our BIG FOOT stamp on everything and we often “talk down” to other countries … Canada included. We've got to stop behaving like the bully. What did Canada ever do to anybody?
But I digress.
We are living during a strange, weird and really, experimental time. Everything seems to be in upheaval – on the world scale down to the personal level. Here’s proof:
The next time you see a stranger on the street, as them, “How are you?”
Of course, they’ll give you the usual answer, “I’m fine and you?”
But if you respond and say, “NO really, how are you REALLY doing?”
Next thing you know, they collapse like a ton of bricks – full of dashed hopes, raw emotion and evidence of some great, personal battle that’s going on within themselves.
Be careful what you ask people. You may actually get the truth behind the public relations façade.
Everyone – and I mean everyone – is going through something. If they’re not, they’re likely either in heavy denial or they’re not human – maybe a Stepford person.
And therein lies the problem. No matter what you do or what you get or where you are, there YOU are. There’s no escaping the harsh reality of your life or the world.
We’re constantly bombarded by a crazy and random mix of imagery: consumerism, entertainment, sports, crime scenes, the stock market, weddings, funerals, politics, wild fires, volcano eruptions, car accidents, newborn babies, snowstorms, torrential rain, gang violence, awards ceremonies, pop music videos, celebrity suicides, school shootings, lost immigrant children, gun battles … on and on and on I could go.
You catch my drift.
And yet, amidst all of this, we keep going and wanting. We keep pursuing these things that we think we need to be happy: a promotion at work, starting a new business, buying a new house, buying a new car, buying new clothes, buying new shoes, buying this or buying that.
It’s as if we think we can buy our way out of being human or buy our way out of depression or out of dealing with the realities of life. How’s that working for you? It’s certainly not working for me.
What ever happened to the American Dream?
If you ask me, I’d say the American Dream is alive and well. But here’s the thing …
We have got to STOP treating the American Dream like it’s God. God is God, not any country on this earth created by God. We have turned the American Dream into an idol.
Could that be the reason why we’re so often disillusioned? Idolatry does not pay.
Believe me, I am a healthy, red-blooded American. I love my country, but we have got to stop putting so much pressure on this thing that we call the American Dream.
We’re at the point where we’re treating America like this humongous ATM. Far too many of us want to make withdrawals and far too few of us are making deposits.
This is not a sustainable model – for anyone. Rich or poor. White or black. Male or female.
We don’t want to do jury duty, we don’t want to vote, we don’t want to volunteer, we don’t want to read a newspaper and worse of all … we do not want to engage with one another. We go out of our way to avoid engaging.
“I just don’t have time!”
That’s what we always say. And yet, we MAKE time for five-hour “Game of Thrones” marathons.
How on earth do we think we can go on like this? Your hand-held device is not going to save you.
I know … I know. This piece is a mish-mash of me going everywhere. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. But isn’t that where we are right now in America?
This is the age of ADD. Is it not? Pop a pill!
Okay Michael, deep breath. Come back to center.
Breathe. Let me try to continue on without popping a pill.
Okay … I’m back.
Do you know what I think happened to the American Dream? The same thing that happens to our own personal dreams.
Get a dream, make a plan, put it into action and just watch the curve balls being hurled at you … like … from out of nowhere. It’s totally crazy.
Do you ever go through the course of your day and ask …
“Really? Is THIS really happening?” “All I wanted was THIS and now THIS is happening!” “You gotta be kidding me!”
That’s simply how it works. Life interrupts. Life disrupts.
And I’m not necessarily only talking about bad things either. Don’t you sometimes have good things that interfere with your plans and cause you to adjust? Of course, you do. It’s called … LIFE.
Life would be unbearable without the weddings and the christenings and the job promotions and the new houses and the walks in the park and the soccer team victories and the proms and the successful startups and the newborn babies and all the things that we associate with peak experiences – in life. These things give us hope.
But here’s the thing …
These are the things of life and we are subject to all of them. As much as we try to be exclusive and shield ourselves from this or that, we cannot hide from life. Life is real and it’s waiting right there to spring itself on you. Good or bad.
Look … the only alternative is to be dead and who wants that? So … we just have to deal.
I love my dreams and I love the concept of the American Dream. WE THE PEOPLE can make it happen. I still believe that, but we have to remember that LIFE is MUCH bigger than the American Dream.
Crap happens. Bad crap and yes, “good crap,” if you will.
Life has thrown curve balls at the American Dream every single day – since the beginning. The Founding Fathers themselves predicted that. That’s why – thank God – we have checks and balances. That’s why we have the Constitution. That’s why we have the Supreme Court. I guess.
That’s also why we have police and firefighters and teachers and preachers and doctors and construction workers and plumbers and auto mechanics and so on …
And yet, in this “Age of Entitlement,” we seem to be forgetting that American life is one big curve ball. Age of Entitlement? Hmm. I’ll save that one for another day.
I don’t know about you, but I always smile whenever I hear someone say that immigrants come to America believing that our streets are “paved with gold.” It's charming and sad at the same time.
Of course, that statement uses "gold" as a metaphor for opportunity - or whatever else people think will flow upon their arrival on American soil.
We all understand that, but still, metaphor or not, have you driven on any of our streets lately? While many American roadways are indeed beautifully-paved things of wonder, many others are full of potholes, slick spots and cracking pavement. And let's not even talk about the state of our crumbling infrastructure.
This is the America we know best - the real, raw, muddy, bloody, gritty, in the trenches and literally down-to earth nation that we are. Everywhere you look, things seem to be falling apart.
Simply put, the American Dream – as we know it - hasn’t paid off for millions of people. Just look around. Most folks are barely holding it together.
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This is not my opinion. This is fact … but of course, you already knew that.
Let me wrap this up. I know you want a nice, BIG bow here, don’t you?
As we struggle and try to make sense of our daily lives, I think we have to remember that through and far above it all, God is sovereign.
You may not believe in God, but I do. If you don’t, remember God has given you free will. He loves you just that much. He doesn’t want you to be a robot. Isn’t that reason enough to love Him?
Whenever I’m struggling with something, I always remind myself that God is my father. He’s right here with me right now. I believe He’s helping me write these words. I mean, when I woke up this morning, little did I know I’d be sitting here chatting with you. This essay was not in my plan for today.
But somehow, I got this spark of inspiration. “American Dream” literally flashed in my mind. And so, here we are.
Who knew? God knew.
Our lives are full of struggle and suffering. That's why we've got to stop pointing fingers and blaming entire groups of people when things aren't working out for us on a personal level. Your personal difficulties are a function of being human. Period. The people you're blaming are struggling with their own crap that has absolutely nothing to do with you.
By virtue of the human condition, you're in the very same boat with "those people" and here's some breaking news … not everything is about YOU and what YOU want. Get a grip.
Life itself is the issue. Life interferes all the time. It often throws blood and mud on your American Dream. The American Dream is nothing if not struggle.
That's why we've got to stop pointing fingers and blaming entire groups of people when things don't work out for us on a personal level.
Just think about it. Not one single thing in our country has been a piece of cake. Even cake can be a struggle to make.
But still, I remind myself that God controls life and the American Dream is little more than a microscopic organism on His pinky finger.
Given that, we need not fear. And so, what ever happened to American Dream?
It’s still here … but it’s bloody and muddy and sweaty. It’s limping and crawling and crying. It’s caught up in anger, disillusionment, depression, pain, excitement, joy, relief, death … on and on and on I could go.
In other words … the American Dream is part of the stuff of life and thank God, God himself is holding this entire human mess on the tip of His index finger.
Truth be told, many of us fake patriotism by using the American Dream as a yardstick to measure how well - or not - we're doing compared to others.
Come on now. You know I'm telling the truth.
In conclusion, life is bigger than the American Dream. The world is bigger than the American Dream, but God is biggest of all - so relax ... take heart …
God is the keeper of all dreams, big and small. That includes the American Dream. He created America itself … for His sake! He is the orchestra conductor who is making all things work together for HIS glory … not America's glory, HIS glory. We're just along for the ride.
God has your back … perhaps not in the way that you might wish, but you’ll be fine.
Look at it this way. You are breathing and you’re free to be you. That’s a great place to start over … yet again.
Now, wipe those tears, let your dreams flow ... and get your butt back out there.