Please Don’t Leave

Interstate 65 in the southern half of Alabama is, for the most part, a beautiful slog.  Pine trees line the roadside for dozens of miles at a time, and you’d better not have less than half a tank of gas if there’s an accident ahead.  Monotony and the resultant distractions probably lead to most of those accidents, but that’s not what I’m writing about. 

As I said, southern Alabama (and northern Alabama, for that matter) is a beautiful place.  The gentle hills of the coastal plain are mostly covered in the pines I mentioned earlier, and the views that the tallest of those hills afford are stunning, in a relatively flat and green way.

Recently, coming home from a conference, I had the opportunity to drive I-65 northbound out of the Montgomery area.  The trip, I’m happy to say, was relatively uneventful as all of my distractions — as well as those of my fellow travelers — were within the limits of safety.  The drive, not complicated with heavy rain or traffic accidents, gave me some time to think, as well as plenty to think about.  

A number of miles north of Montgomery stands a billboard that is regular fodder for local conversation and commentary.  Given the inter-state nature of interstate travel, it’s also known throughout the region and even makes it into national human-interest pieces on occasion.  I am, of course, referring to the “GO TO CHURCH Or the Devil Will Get You!” (sic) sign.

I didn’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about that sign, and I’m not writing about it either. It’s just cool to tell people about it.

There is, however, a new sign sharing the same field, and I did spend some time thinking about it.  Much smaller, though still prominent, the sign states the cliché, “America love it or leave it.”  I’m pretty sure it’s in all caps, but I didn’t get a picture.  In my mind, though, it’s in all caps. 

That saying has been around longer than I can remember (which is back into the 70s), and there was a time when I gave it a positive nod, if not a hearty endorsement.  I used to think differently about a lot of things, to tell you the truth.  Now, though, I see a different America than I did back then, and I see that sign and its words differently as well.  

I used to see only my own little world.  My little town, my little circle of friends and family, and my little frame of reference.  My limited travel and only three channels (plus PBS on the UHF dial) were, I suppose, some of the reasons things used to be little.

Now, though, I see a bigger world and a bigger America.  My little town gave way to living on three different continents and enjoying a variety of experiences.  Traveling over the years (as well as the Internet) has given me a bigger circle of friends and family, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.  I’ve met and known people who are different from me: they look differently, they think differently, and they act differently. They — at least those who are stateside — are America.

America is a big place, literally and metaphorically.  It’s a place of wonder and simplicity; a place of unity and division; a place of celebration and protest.  It’s E pluribus unum: From many, one.  America is a country of diversity and the variety of opinions that come with that reality.  My America, whether one likes it or not, is a place of both differences and similarities.  

And you know what? America, as I see it, is big enough and strong enough to thrive with those realities; they’re an asset, not a liability.

That sign, I suspect, didn’t completely express its author’s full intention.  I could be wrong, but what I think it’s supposed to say is, “MY little vision of America: Love it or leave it.”

I don’t agree with your opinion, sir or ma’am, but I respect your right to have it, and I’m glad you have the opportunity to share it with the world.  

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