December 7th, 1941, a day that has lived in infamy—a moment in time, where all who lived through it seem to remember where they were when they heard the news, that the Empire of Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, that the New York Stock Exchange had crashed, that South Carolina had bombarded Fort Sumter; that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, that Dr. King had been assassinated in Memphis, that the Berlin Wall had fallen, that airplanes had slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Each a moment of trauma, of passion, of moral meaning clear as mud, a moment that restarted history.
There’ve been some such dates in our very recent past, none quite December 7th 1941, but each a terrifying moment when time stood still, when the decadent pettiness of our age sharpened into shock, when no one knew how many people were about to die. The middle days of March 2020; the last days of May 2020; the long day January 6th, 2021; and in its own exhausted way, August 15th 2021, the definitive end of the Post-Cold-War world and the dawn of something new.
At each moment, millions of us held our breath, and millions more of us raged in righteous fury, or stood in trembling fear. The stakes of our times shone clear, the twists and turns of American life on bright, terrible display. Each a moment of fury and dread that, still unresolved, lives on. Each a moment, we raged and feared, that would end America as we know it.
And yet here we are, here we still are, as Americans still were after April 1861, December 1941, September 2001, and every other apocalypse we muddled along through. Here we still are, as afraid and as hopeful, as vindictive and as forgiving, as we’ve ever been. The spirits of our past and the dreams of our future course as mightily through our generation of Americans as any, and all before us have risen to their occasions, and found no final victories, yet lived on in this great in-between, the curse and blessing of American freedom. The republic has survived; democracy has not died. So long as we rise to the occasion and act worthy of ourselves, it may yet go on.
We have a long way to go, and our times are as dangerous as any, in their own ways. But where are our heroes—our Lincolns and our Roosevelts, leaders of great vision and skill, for the ongoing and oncoming American ordeals?
If we cannot find them to lead us, let us act as we ourselves would act, if we were them—let we, the American people, bear up and act with all the grit, forbearance, confidence, prudence, humility, and grace we say we demand of our leaders. Let us act as we would act if we were them. A democracy cannot find its heroes any other way.