Nataleah and the Nation: What it means to be an American – The whole is greater than the parts

Nataleah Small

A symphony is more than a collection of notes

Black dots strung out across ten lines

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Indecipherable to the undiscerning eye

Telling a story to those who know how to listen

And the music isn’t always peaceful

It is loud, arduous, chaotic, and resentful

And the music isn’t always angry

It is the moderator, the disciple, the poet

It tells one story but lives many lives

Because a symphony is more than a collection of notes

The whole is greater than the parts

 

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A bouquet is more than a dozen roses

A dozen times the words “I love you”

A dozen times the words “You are beautiful”

A dozen times the words “Baby, this is perfection”

Because we all know that a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet

Syntax matters, context matters

A bouquet is not always an expression of joy

A dozen times “I’m sorry”

A dozen times “Can we make this work?”

A dozen times “Please, don’t forget me”

Because we all know certain lighting can ruin a girl’s complexion

Syntax matters, context matters

It is more than the collection of single flowers

It is what the roses represent

The whole is greater than the parts

 

An ocean is more than an ocean

Not merely a body of water

Not merely a wet giant

The life force, the soul, the pull of the moon

Take this body out to sea

A million stories, a million deaths, a million tragedies

A million memories, a million lives, a million happy endings

You cannot stop the sea

You cannot swallow the ocean

Too much blue consumes one with melancholy

How can one pretend to comprehend its greatness?

Billowing, brimming, lapping, carrying a bottled message to a new home

And an ocean isn’t an ocean

An indiscernible collection of water molecules

Clinging together, chemistry, life, the host

The whole is greater than the parts

 

A human is more than the body

A collection of thoughts, emotions, memories

Skin on muscles on bones

A product of evolution

A reason for standing upright on two feet

A disease, a deformity, an insecurity

A specialized set of skills

An opposable thumb, a strong arm, a keen mind, a discernable personality

A human is a combination of thought, ability, and action

A collection of atoms, molecules, cells, neurons, feelings, insights, motivations

A piece of work

Because a human is more than what makes up the body

The whole is greater than the parts

 

A nation is more than a collection of people

We might not share the same history

We might not share the same religion, culture, values, morals, vision

Our skin is black and brown and white

Our visions can be divided or unified

We can be bitter and resentful

Or proud and patriotic

In the end, the blood is red and bullets cut deep

Give up your life for an idea

Because what we call home, who we identify as family

A nation is more complex than obscure lines on a map

The whole is greater than the parts

 

And what is it to be an American?

It is difficult to say that it is more than a collection of stereotypes and perceptions

A great, bustling, hungry crowd

Passionate, driven, angry, persistent

Passive, conservative, pious, resilient

And we cover every moment upon the continuum

And we embrace both ends of the spectrum

For it is impossible to place a label on something so complex and changing

A collection of intersectional identities

Immigrants, natives, the wealthy, the homeless

The sick and poor, soldier and saints

People bound together by laws, ideals, and the hope that there is more

A bloody, colorful history

Because what it is to be an American is different to every citizen

Yet the indiscernible holds the writhing masses together

The whole is greater than the parts

 

The symphony is more than the notes

The bouquet is more than the individual roses

The human is more than a body

The nation is more than individuals and people

And America is more than a collection of citizens

There will always be more and it will always be complex

The whole is greater than the parts

 

That is what it means to be an American

 

Collegian writer Nataleah Small can be reached at blogs@collegian.com or on Twitter @NataleahJoy. Leave a comment!