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‘In God I trust’ may be a better license plate

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: June 20, 2013 6:18AM



I am not an eminent historian, so I don’t know if Chris Columbus actually discovered our place or if some folks got here first. One account said he and his men saw some people running around without any clothes on, but they didn’t stop. I don’t know exactly where that was.

The Columbus story is romantic anyway, exactly accurate or not. We do know that 1492 was a big year.

The question is not who discovered America or when, but when we are going to discover ourselves. Our real selves. I wonder what Chris would think now if he sailed in again.

Mark Twain said God created man late in the week when he was already pretty tired. Twain had the audacity to imply that people are imperfect, even we who live in the land of the free!

I thought of him while reading about a legal case in a state whose name I forget, where a group has sued school folks for posting a copy of the Ten Commandments on school property. There will be no winners in this one, only residual anger — is that covered in the commandments?

We human folks have this thing about mottos and about collective assurances of beliefs. How many of the Big 10 can we repeat from memory? How many of them guide us in the way we live?

A few years back an Indiana license plate said “In God We Trust.” Who, I wondered, is WE? A plate saying “In God I Trust” would have been more effective, but I never saw any. Maybe there is a Hoosier government message in that omission. Maybe none of us wanted that specialty plate.

In my humble beginning in a neat rural enclave, I proudly recited the pledge in its original form. It was profoundly simple and neat. The word “indivisible” always has touched me. Sometimes we seem to regard it as a kind of ephemeral affirmation, just a piece of decorative prose.

There probably were some prayers back home at PTA meetings (remember them?) but I don’t recall. You know how rituals become. Forgettable.

I wonder what we all are thinking when a singer delivers the national anthem that seems to be a must before the endless sports events. Do we feel proud and patriotic or are we impatiently eager for the first pitch?

When we sing “God Bless America,” a piece of musical art, what are we thinking? When we see rainbows, surely the work of a master artist, do we acknowledge that other people in other lands, people of different religious beliefs, are being treated to the same great show? We got into this show without buying a ticket. We should celebrate that.

Some of us grew up in a Norman Rockwell kind of America. A few years ago, columnist William Raspberry wrote that the Rockwell America never included anyone who looked like him, a black man. I wonder how the artist would draw America today. How do we see America?

The world stretches from sea to shining sea and beyond. Sunsets. Rainbows. They carry no labels.

That suit over posting the Ten Commandments is just another snowflake in the great blizzard of truths that we should acknowledge. Another noisy argument that makes Mark Twain sound very profound.

I mull over these things in preparation for my final exam. I have to cram in case I am asked how many of the Ten Commandments I have obeyed, or even how many I remember. Or what I am thinking when I sing “God Bless America.”

Life does get complicated.



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