The beauty of May is that the whole country is more or less on the same page, called spring, and spring is spring, in Minnesota or California or Georgia or Vermont. Slightly different birds and flowers, same feeling. April is blowing snow up north, and by June my friends in Georgia will be chained to their air conditioners, but here for a few weeks we are more unum than pluribus.
I grew up in a country where we all knew the same songs and watched the same TV shows, and now we live in tiny niches. Most famous people are people most people have never heard of. Which is fine by me. A nation of individualists. You work hard to be odd and try to have unique problems and a Facebook page that is weirder than everyone else's -- fine, it's your life, it's your arm with the crocodile tattoo, not mine, but enjoy this brief period of consanguinity.
A couple years ago I decided that I hate the showy way the national anthem is crooned by pop stars at ballgames and I love to hear it sung by the American people in the key of G. It's a great song, singable and yet thrilling, and it rises to opera on the "yet wave" leading to "O'er the land of the free" and the sopranos jump up an octave and then we're in the home of the brave and everybody whoops and cheers. It's beautiful and ordinary, just like spring itself.
Sen. Obama is campaigning on a sort of national unity platform that appeals to young people, who aren't so well fixed and can't afford the luxurious symbolic cultural battles of the past couple decades, and who could use some decent solutions to pressing problems that, untreated, could make their lives miserable. The Republicans will hit him hard and low in September and portray him as a Muslim opium dealer who infiltrated this country via Roswell, N.M. Meanwhile, it's good to see a skinny guy make his way in a field formerly dominated by jowly guys. It shows that we're not so hung up on differences as we maybe used to be.
What ties us all together is the fact that each of us had a mother, and she brought us up to get along with the others and be kind to odd ducks (who might turn out to be swans) and to take turns. And so, when the young woman with three little kids, two shoulder bags, a roller bag and a purse comes to Gate 38, all of us in the waiting area are suddenly keenly aware of her, heads turn, four of us give up seats, a path is cleared. She is Eve, from whom we are all descended, and if we don't honor her, then who are we?
Twenty years ago I landed in the slough of despond and was offered an antidepressant -- this was at the dawning of the Age of Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors -- which I resisted at first, thinking that my troubles must be unique and lie hidden in memories of childhood which a therapist, over a 10- or 15-year span, would help me unpeel like an onion. But I'm an American, in a hurry, so I took the pills. They helped. Another thing we all have in common: serotonin.
Another is a dark imagination that magnifies danger, conflict, the opposition of other people, the evil that lurks in the heart of man. It's what pays Stephen King's light bill up in Bangor, Maine, the lurking thought that your toaster might attack you one morning, the driver of your children's school bus may be psychotic, your iPod might rewire your brain to become the slave of the first person you meet who uses the word "invidious."
Here we are in a green paradise, stomachs churning, eyeballs flickering, sensing dark conspiracies, feeling alienated from the people around us who feel similarly alienated from us. I once saw a soprano sing opera arias at a concert in a big outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta. Thousands of people sat transfixed by Puccini's "Un bel di" while at her feet, in the expensive seats, a couple dozen wealthy drunks sat and heckled her. She could hear them clear as day but she shut them out and sang to the 98 percent of the crowd that wanted to hear her. An act of bravery and discipline that I am in awe of.
Sing your song, don't let the bastards get you down.
(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.