In modern day, when you break up with someone, a hastily crafted text message may be all you deem necessary to put a kabosh on things. A flippant use of emoticons (or ‘emojis,’ for my younger crew), even, to say for you what words you choose not to say. We have become a society who favors brevity as the order of the day.
We are on separate paths.
I need more space.
It’s not you, it’s me.
You know, the usual.
Afterwards, the recipient deletes said message, or if there is an “archaic” paper missive, its contents could be irrevocably lost to the trash can or scorched in fire, in more dramatic fashion. For a rare few, who like to torture themselves with a rehashing of such events, it may be kept locked away in a box at the back of their closet, only to be unearthed when it’s time to move out.
If you’re of the more verbose bent, like me, you may list your reasons, and even elaborate on one or two that really drive home your point of incompatibility.
Today, I choose this route. A breakup.
For me, as with many, an ominous cloud of dread pervades as we stare down this July 4, 2020. Today, I could not focus on the celebratory spirit of so many, because I feel like there is something that needs addressing, but in a way that is startling and impactful.
Before I had put pen to paper, or thumb to text box, I began to recall one such letter I’d studied in college and afterwards as a teacher, which has left a lasting impact on millions. It is a guidepost for how I write someone with whom I’d like to conclude relations.
You see, we still have this letter today, behind plate glass, for all the world to see.
At its most basic level of purpose, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is one of the most epic break-up letters in history.
Its author exposes abuses suffered by the thirteen colonies, from tariffs to housing soldiers in their own homes against their will. This integral piece of parchment lays out their termination with said abuser in very clear terms, calling out our soon-to-be national ex on their crap. No holds barred. Drop the quill.
If it weren’t for this exact set of beautifully scrawled paragraphs, we would not be celebrating this particular day on the calendar.
I travel back into my memory, to a time when I taught a unit on Rationalism to my 11th grade American Lit classes, which included many of the Founding Fathers’ works, centered around the relationship we had with the British monarchy. From Henry to Paine to Franklin, these learned men proved to us that they knew how to argue a cause, and were not afraid to lay bare others’ views on nationhood.
I looked forward to the day we examined Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, because, for most of those eager youths, it would be the first time they clearly understood the bedrock that our nation was built upon and the onus placed upon its citizens to uphold those truths for future generations.
How, then, I asked myself, could I hook the class, in true teenage fashion, so that their ears would actually hear the lesson?
It came to me after doing some brainstorming. I would craft one heck of a breakup letter that I claimed to have found. I spun the tale that it was left behind by the previous class, but with no full signature to indicate its drafter—like Sherlock Holmes sniffing out a clue, I told them I noticed two capitalized letters in one corner—“T.J.” Written on crumpled notebook paper, the modern verbiage was a multitude of “its not me, it’s you” reasons that meant it was time to nix the relationship. With each new insult to the “culprit,” there were hisses from my females students and “awe, dang” retorts from the males. This “person” claimed that they could not be themselves, that they felt controlled and pushed around. I closed it with something to the effect of “it’s time I stand on my own, without you.” Drop the mic.
The air sizzled with this energy for a few minutes, much as I imagined was the air in the Continental Congress’ meeting room on that fateful day when they signed the document. I readied myself at my podium. Only the very clever detectives in the room could begin to piece together my motive for beginning class like that, but in an exchange of looks between us, they remained silent.
Finally, in a more serious tone, I launched into what Jefferson said to King George III about usurpation of power and ill treatment of the colonies. I peppered them with a series of hypotheticals.
What must it have been like to sit with the Continental Congress for those days leading up to the signing of that famed document?
Were they afraid their rejection letter would be rebuffed?
Did they feel like they’d left something out, not clear enough?
Did they fear retaliation?
Did they just adopt the idea of “let go, and let God”?
What would America look like if we had stayed in a bad relationship?
My captive audience twittered about all of this as they exited the room, and I knew the plan succeeded.
The next day, I revealed the original letter’s writer, which was met with a mix of raucous laughter and shock that it was me, writing as Jefferson. The jig was up, and some were clearly feeling duped (I credit my excellent line delivery and facial expressions as part of their ease of convincing). While I had fun with front loading them in this way, I also told them of my sense of pride in speaking Jefferson’s words.
I truly believe that my students saw more clearly the eloquence and craftsmanship of Jefferson’s piece, the rights he and his fellow leaders were arguing for, and that they could recall its important phraseology in later years, which meant that this one stuck. I told them that I had always thanked my lucky stars that we did not have to undertake such a separation from a greater power or feel such uncertainty in our national identity.
We said that we felt so far removed from that challenge that it seemed as though those events would remain on the textbook page in the annals of history. Granted, this was as far back in our field of vision as 2007–different time, different leadership.
We were so wrong.
The wildfire (or, as some choose to call it, “dumpster fire”) that is 2020 is not what the Founding Fathers signed that document and started a Revolution for, nor most of the last two centuries prior, that’s for sure. I’d imagine that those powdered wigs would slowly shake in bewilderment, chins parallel to the floor in shame, brows furrowed in frustration and contempt—a total recognition that many of the tenets in their early governmental documents were not adhered to, or even understood fully. What poor thanks we have given their efforts, many of which they would want a refund on if they examined the fruits of their labors under a microscope. I think you could spot our damaged shell from the Moon.
Yes, I acknowledge that a great deal of successful developments have occurred or been put into action, but they were still not enough to cause us to act differently or choose the right path set out so long ago.
The truth is, that in the past four months of this new decade, there is simply a brighter, more unforgiving light shed on the holes in our system now, showing all of our pores and blemishes, no filter applied to soften us to a “golden hour” glow of patriotism.
We are in a trajectory that leans even more towards unrest; the difference is that we are fighting from within our own borders, not with a bejeweled monarch across the big water.
The thing that has the ability to prevent this implosion is a recognition of our flaws, and our ability to, once and for all, alter our mindsets. Our country is depending upon this.
We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, need to wipe clean the slate of our discord and circle back to the central tenets that Thomas Jefferson and his brethren so aptly penned, after which so many influential men willingly signed. They looked to the future, not merely to their own selfish desires of the moment, knowing that the actions of their “today” would shape our “tomorrows.” Can our leadership say the same, and with as great a conviction?? Okay, on some local levels, maybe the answer is yes, but if we examine the top of the pyramid, it’s a resounding no.
So, I’ve built this whole dissertation around one thing: a breakup.
Let me hold true to my word.
I am breaking up with the America of this first half of 2020.
The part of America full of hatred and injustice, who continues to fail at comprehending the word “ALL” in “all men are created equal.”
The overpublicized and loud-mouthed part of America that is being helmed by the uncouth, ignorant, intolerant, and ill-equipped, without the vision that allows them to see its own nation on its knees, begging for change.
The part of America who is making choices that fail to benefit ALL of us, but, instead, just the privileged few.
It’s not me, it’s you. We are through.
Henceforth, here is my declaration:
I declare to do what Jefferson suggests as the closing of his break-up letter: pledge my life, my fortune, and my honor to making a better America for ALL, one that is inclusive, empathetic, and fair.
I’m not a politician, a lawmaker, or a drafter of such weighty documents, . I will, in all likelihood, never sit in the Senate or a Congress. However, I am a mother and a teacher of youth, two influential roles that helps shape those whose choices and vision will shape the America of the coming decades.
I vow to make changes where I can, and with whom I can.
I’m even going to use that hard-won voting right for women. After all, it’s been one hundred years since that milestone.
I’ve got to start somewhere.
“My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present…trust no future, however pleasant. Let the dead past bury its dead. Act, act in the living present, Heart within, and God overhead.”-Frederick Douglass’ Speech, July 5, 1852-
We owe it to ourselves to make changes now, and I believe that such efforts would merit fireworks and celebrating.
This nation is YOURS, MINE, and OURS.
Let’s start acting like it.
-Kindred Spirit- (originally written 7.4.2020)