Tag Archives: patriotism

Tips For Adulthood: Why ‘To The End Of The Land’ Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Every so often on this blog, I point you towards books or movies that I think constitute essential reads/views for grown ups. I did it most recently with Muriel Barbery’s fabulous The Elegance Of The Hedgehog which was – to my mind, at least – all about adulthood.

This week I’m going to do it again with David Grossman’s beautifully raw novel, To The End Of The Land. This is, quite possibly, the saddest book I’ve ever read.

It recounts one woman’s walk across Israel while her 18 year-old son is called up for a 28-day military exercise. She sets off on this walk – which runs the span of the entire novel – because she doesn’t want to be home if and when the authorities try to find her should her son die in combat.

On the jacket cover, the novelist Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) writes: “Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same.”

Krauss nails it, in my opinion, and I can’t recommend this book enough, especially for those of you who – like me –  share a fondness for sad books.

Here are five reasons I think everyone should read this book:

a. It’s About Motherhood. This is first and foremost a book about being a parent – and perhaps even more specifically – being a mother.  In the wake of the recent Oscars ceremony, much has been made of Natalie Portman’s famous throwaway line in which she thanked her fiance for giving her the “most important role” of her life — motherhood. Some writers, like Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, worried aloud that Portman was doing women a disservice by trumpeting babies over career.  Others – notably my Politics Daily colleague Joanne Bamberger – endorsed Portman’s take on the dual roles many women confront. As Joanne writes, “On some level being a mother is the greatest role of my life — not superior to others, just the greatest in terms of challenges and rewards.” If you’re feeling caught between these two feminist reads of the Portman moment, then read Grossman’s book. It reveals the fierce, all-consuming, painful and even ambivalent nature of a mother’s love in perhaps the most honest way I’ve ever seen.

b. It’s about parenting a teen. I wrote recently about the challenges of parenting teen-agers in light of new data we have about them. Boy, does this book drive that home. Grossman renders beautifully the delicate mixture of vulnerability and independence that characterizes teen-agers (in this case, boys) in a way that will resonate and, again, cut you to the quick.

c. It’s about what might have been. I once wrote a post about the “road not taken” in which I examined wistfulness as a leit motif of adulthood. My basic point was that whether it’s who you marry or what career you choose or where you live, part of being a grown up is being plagued by what might have been. Because To The End of the Land centers around a relationship between two ex lovers who’ve gone their separate ways (as a result of war) and then reunite in a literal journey of self-discovery, it plays out the whole “road not taken” concept in real time. Wow.

d. It’s about patriotism. I’m not a terribly patriotic individual. It’s not that I have a great deal of antipathy for the mother ship, I’m just not all that inclined to wave a flag or jump on a Fourth of July parade float. But if you live in Israel, you have no choice but to be patriotic. Patriotism is woven into the very fiber of the country, even for those (like the protagonist in this book) who are ambivalent about where they want their country headed. Grappling with one’s patriotism isn’t something you deal with as a child. But it is something which – explicitly or implicitly – everyone must come to terms with as a grown up.

e. It’s about Israel. This is also a book about Israel and the unbelievably complicated feelings it arouses in its citizens. One of the things I liked most about the book is that no one emerges as a winner in the seemingly eternal and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has dominated (until quite recently) our coverage of the Middle East: not the Israelis, not the Arabs, not foreign powers like the U.S. who figure largely there. However you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, there is no question that resolving it is central to a lasting peace in the Middle East, even with all of the other things going on in the region right now. That is an enduring reality of our collective adulthood.

Image; Israel – The Negev by Stella’s Mom via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

How The Target Boycott Made Me Rethink My Patriotism

When you live abroad for a long time, you tend to identify certain cultural objects that can readily anchor you with a sense of home. They are the things which – for better or for worse – come to signify “America.”

It might be a diner that serves all-day brunch. Or the blissful simplicity of a tumble dryer. Or – depending on your politics – the meteoric rise of a Mama Grizzly politician or a musician for whom the public is Gaga.

For me, that cultural touchstone has always been Target, that iconic superstore of highways and strip malls across America where you can buy everything from toothpaste to DVD players. Whenever we go back to the States, my husband and I devote an entire day to shopping at Target. We even have a running “Target list” on our computer to which we add items regularly throughout the year.

Read the rest of this article at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Target Cart by joannabethpdot via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Patriotism in Adulthood: Should We All Be Waving The Flag?

I’ve never been all that patriotic.

Part of it is that I’ve lived abroad for many periods in my life which (I think) tends to dilute one’s patriotic feelings.

Part of it is that – at least until President Obama came along – I never felt particularly inspired by my country’s public servants. So sure, I voted. But I never felt like they were offering a vision of the country that I could really buy into or that moved me to consider public service myself.

And I’m sure that a large part of it is that in America, at least, patriotism often goes along with a sort of xenophobic, jingoistic, with-us-or-against-us mentality. And that has never appealed.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. My colleague Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily wrote this weekend about how – post 9/11 – she discovered her inner patriot. Whereas before 9/11 she cringed slightly at overt signs of patriotism – like hanging a flag – once she saw her country in a more vulnerable light, it moved her to feel “a visceral love for its ideals and possibilities, and a strong protective urge.” Since then, she proudly hangs a flag on her door, and wishes that more “progressive” types would do the same.

My colleague James Grady was singing a similar tune on Politics Daily over the weekend. He exhorted us all to go out and join enthusiastically in the Fourth of July parades that blanket American towns and cities every Independence Day. For Jim, the Fourth is not just a celebration of the freedom we all enjoy but an acknowledgment that it hinges crucially on mutual respect of each other’s freedoms. And *that’s* the patriotic spirit that we need to keep alive.

I was moved by my colleagues’ arguments. Which doesn’t mean that I’m any likelier to purchase – much less wave – an American flag than I was yesterday. Nor am I likely to jump on a parade float anytime soon.

But I can rally behind the idea that all have reasons to love our country which transcend our foreign policy and our showmanship and the often misguided appropriation of our national myths in the service of causes that undermine it. That at the end of the day, what has always bound our country together was a set of ideas, not a set of laws or – God Forbid – a crown. As Jill writes: “It’s sometimes hard to love this country as it is…it’s easy to love it for what it aims to be.”

Which is perhaps why – when this little gem landed in my inbox this morning  – I paused for a moment and did feel a dash of patriotism. It’s another Politics Daily colleague – Robert Trussell – singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land – on his front porch. Have a listen.

I don’t think I’d ever paused before to listen to all the lyrics of this song but here’s the final verse:

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Amen. And happy trails.


For those who are interested, I’m over on www.PoliticsDaily.com today talking about the latest thinking in development assistance: giving poor people cash as a means of eradicating poverty.

Image: American Flag by ladybugbkt via flickr under a creative commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things I Love About America

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list was inspired by my recent trip back to United States. I’m not especially known for my patriotism. But on this trip home I found a number of things that really inspired me about America. (Don’t worry, I also found plenty of things that horrified me…stay tuned for next week.)

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com expounding upon five things I love about America. Have a look

Image: Proud To Be An American by Architekt2 via Twitter under a Creative Commons license.

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