It was about 2 AM on a cold December night in 2010. I had been tossing and turning in bed for a couple of hours with an increasing level of pain in my upper back, upper arms, and chest. The pain had started earlier in the day, right after I received an extremely disturbing, emotionally shocking phone call. At first it was just a slight discomfort that I couldn’t brush off with some Tylenol. But as the afternoon and evening wore on it got more and more noticeable.
And suddenly around 2 AM I finally admitted to myself it had become unbearable, and was indicating something was seriously wrong. I got up and woke up both my daughter and husband and asked them to take me to the Emergency Room at the hospital about five minutes from our home. It seemed like an eternity while waiting for my daughter to get up and get dressed. I went out to the car and tried to sit down and calm myself, but by then the pain was so excruciating that I literally … literally … was convinced I was perhaps going to die. I dashed back into the house and probably frightened my family horribly by the level of panic I was exhibiting at that point.
I was so grateful that the hospital was nearby! As soon as my husband pulled the car up to the door, I jumped out, dashed in, and slumped over the admissions desk, explaining that I thought I was having a heart attack. At that point everyone began rushing around. As I lay on an examining table with nurses beginning to hook me up to monitors and IVs and such, I begged for something to kill the pain, but they couldn’t give me anything until they had finished some of the testing and examination.
My blood pressure was sky high, and preliminary blood tests showed some sort of suspicious factor in my blood that often indicates heart attack. The pain didn’t go away for some time, even with strong narcotics. At that point, they admitted me and placed me in the Intensive Care Unit and scheduled a heart catheter procedure for the next day. I’d been there almost two hours before the pain level was brought down to some level of comfort.
The next morning they wheeled me in to an operating room, and administered anesthesia. I knew from stories of the heart attacks of others that a heart catheter was done to check for blockages in heart arteries, and that if they found serious ones, they might operate immediately. As I drifted off to sleep I had no idea if I’d wake up to find they’d performed open heart surgery on me, or what.
And then I opened my eyes to see the heart specialist looking down at me. His first words were, “Your arteries are clean as a whistle! What are you doing in here?”
What a shock! As we discussed my symptoms, and I shared with him the emotional trauma I had experienced the day before as a result of a phone call, just before the pains began, he explained to me that the body literally can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack in response to such emotional trauma—sometimes referred to as a type of “panic attack.” Later in the day, I was back at home, pondering the mysteries of the human body! And the reality that “misdiagnosis” isn’t all that uncommon during the process when doctors try to sort out the symptoms that are being presented. That misdiagnosis wasn’t anybody’s “fault.” It just needed to be checked against other evidence.
By the way, just about a year later, I misdiagnosed some more symptoms I’d been having as being either “food poisoning” or some sort of intestinal flu—when it turned out it was really an extremely nasty flare-up of an infected gall bladder. Ending up in the ER again in misery, I found myself undergoing emergency gall bladder surgery to remove it that same day. The doc explained that by the looks of the removed gall bladder, it had obviously been badly infected for at least two years. I had no idea that I had gall bladder problems until that day! Yet looking back over the previous two years with what I now understood about gall bladder attack symptoms, I could pinpoint several “self-misdiagnosed” incidents of gall bladder attacks that I had attributed to other causes. As a matter of fact, I discovered that some gall bladder attacks can mimic the symptoms of heart attacks! And they can be brought on by emotional trauma. So the symptoms of my “false alarm non-heart attack” a year earlier may well have been brought on by a gall bladder attack triggered by emotional trauma.
Yes, misdiagnosis comes in many guises.
The day after the latest presidential election, I read an essay on the Web by a young woman about her reaction to the results. It started out this way:
Last night I crawled into bed with my little girl, wrapped my arms tightly around her and wept for hours while she slept.
I wept for the loss of a country that was once the envy of the world—a republic that stood for freedom, opportunity, justice, and individual rights protected by the rule of law—its fearless and indivisible people known for their fierce individualism, exceptionalism, unwavering patriotism, and pride in their nation.
I wept for the degradation of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the greatest documents ever written, and the brilliant men who drafted them in attempts to secure our liberties by the rule of law. It was this rule of law that was the foundation for our republic, which became the greatest, most advanced nation the world has ever known, simply because government was limited and men were free.
This young woman has seen symptoms in the US of “something drastically wrong.” She has seen our economy slipping away, our prestige in the world in tatters, our “pride” in being “the most advanced nation the world has ever known” dwindling. And she has diagnosed why this is so, and declared what medicine it would have taken to “fix” our country back to “the way things used to be.” She was obviously convinced that the right prescription would have made the country once again a nation that basked in the admiration of the world, as it was when we all had “freedom, opportunity, justice, and individual rights protected by the rule of law.” Given her diagnosis, and the fact that her cure of choice is not available now, her prognosis for the future is very grim.
I have many friends who would agree totally with this young woman’s diagnosis—and prognosis. I’m willing to bet that some of them wept that same night, for many of the same reasons. And I can tell from the things that they write on their Facebook pages and on Internet forums and the things they say in heated conversations about partisan politics that they would agree with her description of what our nation was like when it was “healthy” once upon a time. They would also agree on what “treatment” it would have taken to turn things around and give us back our Glory Days.
The young woman didn’t mention religion in her essay, but many of my friends and acquaintances would have added some strong statements about how our Founding Fathers carefully built the brand new nation not on secular values but on thoroughly biblical “Christian Principles,” and how those Christian Principles were the underpinnings of what made us the most prosperous nation on Earth—because God looked down in pleasure at our righteous Christian-principled ways and showered us with blessings. They seem totally convinced that all earlier generations in our country cherished and valued these Christian principles, but that this latest generation has rejected them and thus earned God’s wrath. In other words … “what’s wrong with the country” is an “acute illness” that has only come upon it in the last fifty years or so. Most seem to pinpoint the 1950s as the Zenith of God’s favor and blessings, the pinnacle of 175 years or so of robust, healthy national growth, and the 1960s as the onset of the cancerous uncleanness that has turned His face from the nation.
I agree with the young woman and my friends and acquaintances that there are some serious problems abroad in our land. But I am convinced that there has been a very serious case of misdiagnosis going on. Only if one gets a clear diagnosis of what the REAL problems are that have caused our national symptoms, can one embrace the proper healing regimen, that could, if I am correct in my alternate diagnosis, yield a totally different prognosis.
To tie this whole scenario in with the theme of this website: a common word for folks who “predict the future” is a prognosticator. A biblical word for the same general notion is “prophet”! The Bible is full of prophets sharing the ironclad predictions from God Himself of what will eventually happen to nations which follow certain paths. Sometimes these outcomes are results of just the fact that the nation is going against impersonal laws that God set in motion. This is true of individuals as well. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard and consider her ways” is a proverb that teaches the same impersonal “law” that shows up in the fable of the ant and the grasshopper—that working diligently yields blessings and being lazy brings its own curse.
Sometimes outcomes for nations which ignore godly principles come by direct intervention of God. God didn’t wait for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to “destroy themselves” through the fruit of their own decadence. He stepped in and took care of it for them.
The same is true of blessings. Sometimes whole nations are blessed to a certain extent just by following godly principles which carry blessings as a natural outcome. A culture which values, and reinforces by social expectations, marital fidelity will have more solid families. And sometimes God chooses to step in and give a “double portion” blessing of peace, safety, bountiful crops, and so on as a direct divine reward for those who love Him.
And sometimes it doesn’t take a “majority” of people doing things right to change things drastically. God agreed with Abraham that if there were even ten righteous people in Sodom, He would spare the city for their sakes, as evil and decadent as it was!
I believe all the principles above can be applied to understanding “how God looks” at the United States of America in the 21st Century.
But I also believe that many people who think they are applying them—are MISapplying them, and thereby MISdiagnosing what ails us as a nation.
What could cause such a divergent diagnosis between what I seem to see and what the young woman’s essay above says about what she seems to see? I believe it is the result of a factor I have come to call the Time Ghetto.
You have no doubt heard the term “ghetto.” Wiki says:
A ghetto is a part of a city predominantly occupied by a particular ethnic group that may be looked down upon for various reasons, especially because of social or economic issues, or because they have been forced to live there (e.g. the Jewish Ghettos in Europe).
The term was originally used in Venice derived from the word Borghetto, meaning Little Borgo, a cluster of homes and buildings often outside Italian city walls, to describe the area where Jews, tradespeople or agricultural workers were compelled to live. In rural Italy, Borghetto is not necessarily a pejorative term. In modern context, the term ghetto now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated with specific ethnic or racial populations living below the poverty line.
In Europe the population of a ghetto was usually forced to live there by law or social pressure. In the US, it is not that an individual is legally required to live there, but that circumstances of multi-generational family experience including unrelenting poverty have confined him there.
One of the features of “life in the ghetto” in the US for many people is that they have never been beyond its borders. They don’t know what the “outside world” is like because all they have ever known is the tenements and streets and alleys of their own ghetto. Since the advent of television this has become less true, of course, since even the poorest of people most often have a television. This has allowed them to vicariously experience a bit of what it is like elsewhere in the US—but then again, it can be a very distorted view of the rest of the country given the common fare on TV. Which of course is also the view that people in other nations have of the US … do they wonder if the lives of all six year olds in our country are like those of Honey Boo Boo (Alana) Thompson, child beauty pageant participant, of the recent hit reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”?
This same principle of a greatly narrowed view of the country can apply to history, because actually we are all essentially trapped in our own Time Ghetto. All we really have ever seen—for ourselves—of the United States is what has gone on between the moment of our birth and the present. All we really know about the generation just before ours is what our parents and older relatives have told us of their own observations and experiences, along with what we’ve seen on “re-runs” of old TV shows and the like, along with a few news clips of famous events.
Go much further back, beyond our grandparent’s generation, and we have NO first-person “primary sources” to consult. And let’s face it…most of us have never even bothered to “pick the brains” of those older than ourselves for their point of view on their own lifetime. Those of my daughter’s generation likely know more about the time period of my childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s from Andy Griffith Show re-runs than they do from talking with relatives.
(Yes, that’s a young Ron Howard playing Opie.)
Andy Griffith’s show was fiction, and only reflected very vaguely “what life was like” in those days for the small portion of the population living in small rural towns in the south. And re-runs of the Beverly Hillbillies reflected nothing of reality for anybody.
So where do we get our view of “what our country was like” in times earlier than that? I would suggest to you that most of us have at best a “patriotic pageant” view of American History. Somewhat like the “American Experience” attraction at Walt Disney’s EPCOT, where audio-animatronic versions of Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin host the audience through the presentation of a series of “tableaux” of American eras.
Here are some folks sitting around the porch of a southern store in the Depression era, listening to Roosevelt’s “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself” radio broadcast, and in a later scene, his announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As an interesting sidelight, I just discovered the likely “inspirational source” for that tableau. This is a photograph taken by famous Depression Era photographer Dorothea Lange in 1939 in Gordonton, North Carolina.
And here is the same building, which is still standing, as it now looks on Google Maps “Street View”!
Viewing the American Adventure, you’re almost left with the feeling that real history had neatly pigeon-holed events—and a sound track that played appropriate music during every era. Starting with the Sounds of Liberty a capella ensemble in the lobby while you wait for the show to start.
Our high school history books have for many generations spit out a rapid fire check list of famous people, important dates, important documents, famous battles, famous “moments” … each covered in a chapter or two or maybe even just a paragraph or two. But there was very little of any depth on what the culture was really like. Sort of like this video from the old Smothers Brothers show:
To this little bit of historical bare bones, add in a few snippets of scenarios of historical fiction or non-fiction movies…the early 1900s in the eyes of most people were like the “Music Man,” complete with that ubiquitous soundtrack, this one playing 76 Trombones. (Yes, that’s Ron Howard again, the same time he was playing Opie.)
The Great Depression was like a Shirley Temple movie you watch on Turner Classic Movies, experienced by the masses at the time to the background of The Good Ship Lollipop.
The mid to late 1800s? Those played out to the tune of the theme song of Bonanza re-runs.
As a child in the 1950s my view of what “Colonial Times” was like was based on the Disney Swamp Fox TV show, about famous Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion. (Yes, that is a very young, very serious Leslie Nielsen before he became a silver-haired old funny guy!)
And yes, it had its own soundtrack of period music, with the theme song:
Swamp Fox! Swamp Fox!
Tail on his hat,
Nobody knows where The Swamp Fox’s at.
Swamp Fox! Swamp Fox!
Hiding in the glen,
He runs away to fight again.
We got lead, and we got powder.
We don’t fight with an empty gun.
Only makes us shout the louder.
We are men of Marion.
Got no blankets, got no bed.
Got no roof above our heads.
Got no shelter when it rains.
All we got is Yankee brains.
Got no cornpone, got no honey.
All we got is Continental money.
Won’t buy bacon, hominy or grits.
Roasted ears and possum is all we ever git.
Indian life? That was in cowboy movies, acted out to the tune of their pseudo-Indian war chant music. (I learned in a History of Music course at Michigan State University years ago that the standard “BOOMboomboomboom” beat we associate with Indians doesn’t really show up in any authentic Native American music at all… it seems to have been invented out of whole cloth by Hollywood!)
Lives of black folks before the Civil War? That was Gone With the Wind. Represented by Prissy, who didn’t “know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies,” and Mammy.
The lifestyle of blacks in the Post Civil War Reconstruction period? That soundbite would be Bill Bojangles Robinson tap-dancing with Shirley Temple, again on Turner Classic Movies, this time in The Little Colonel.
So what’s the bottom line for many if not most people—even for aging Baby Boomers like myself? (I was born in 1946.) I’m convinced that virtually all that most know about many parts of America’s past is whatever they have seen in such media as old movies—or re-runs of old Looney Tunes or Walt Disney cartoons.
If it wasn’t in a movie, it might as well never really existed. That would have pretty much described me up until thirty years or so ago.
Admittedly there are lots of folks who have dug deeper into history after high school on their own, but the majority of those seem to be narrowly focused on some era that fascinates them, such as Civil War buffs. Some of those may even go so far as to try to “recreate” the “feel” of the times with re-enactments. There’s a big market for clothing and accessories used by re-enactors.
It has been my observation that those who dig deeper into US history to get a feel for all the various eras and for what life was really like for the people living in those eras are few and far between. Even fewer seem to have any interest in following threads throughout our history that would clarify how we got where we are now in a wide variety of aspects of our national culture.
It is my conviction that only if we do so, can we see clearly enough to begin accurately diagnosing what ails us in the 21st century. Yet I know many people just don’t have the patience for plowing through volume after volume of specialized history books, many of them written in a dry, academic style—with few or no pictures! (Most don’t even have enough interest to sit through an hour History Channel special on some topic. Some are too busy watching Honey Boo Boo, I suppose …) So I propose to help my readers out. I have read, and continue regularly to read, quite a bit about the various eras of our history, covering many fascinating and poignant topics that the average high school history books or even the History Channel have overlooked. I’m not asking anyone to read a 400+ page book like those in my library. I’m offering to condense the information down to manageable bites for blog entries, replete with lots of first-person quotations from the “real people” who lived in those eras, lots of intriguing vintage photos, cartoons, and art that I’m sure few have seen.
I don’t want to spoon-feed conclusions to readers—I want to give enough documentation and logical commentary that everyone can come to their own conclusions. If, after reading what I have to share, some folks decide that they don’t share my concerns and my conclusions, I’ll be satisfied that I have at least done what I set out to do. I have long had a “personal saying” that goes like this: “You can’t understand what I understand until you know what I know.” Or … until you’ve seen what I’ve seen. Once you’ve seen what I’ve seen about a deeper perspective of US history, once you know the information that I have to share, it will be up to you how to use it or ignore it.
Oh say—can you see?