Rather Finds 'The American Dream' Alive and Well
BY BILL DUNN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE
This collection of stories about 35 people who exemplify the American Dream
was inspired by the television and radio series proposed two years ago by
"CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Dan Rather.
He calls is The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation (William
Morrow, $25), but a better title might have been American Dreams. The series
ran for more than a year, featuring a cross-section of truly remarkable
characters who together demonstrated that there is no more a single American
dream than there is a typical American.
The expanded profiles in this book are strikingly diverse in the spirit of
John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage and Colman McCarthy's Disturbers of
They are farmers, teachers, cops, church workers, authors and rags-to-riches
millionaires. There's a maid, an astronaut, a nun, an inventor, an actor, a
stockbroker, a pitching coach and a politician or two.
All but one profiled are new to this book -- the kind of everyday folks we
might see taking a bow during a presidential address as examples of courage,
valor or some special brand of community service.
Some overcame their own rock-bottom surroundings to achieve their dreams;
others had to leave the relative comforts of home to immerse themselves in
rock-bottom social ills.
Some were in awe at the freedom they found in America, while others were
stunned at how cavalier their elected governmental officials could be in
denying such a basic freedom as planting a protest sign in your own yard.
Some worked hard to achieve financial success and others, in search of true
happiness, walked away from money and status before they could find it.
Some traveled unexpected roads; others had to go back down some old ones.
Some of the dreams took decades to come true; others were realized with
"The American dream affords us opportunity and the freedom to seize it,"
Rather writes. "It also created, in my experience, some of the most generous
people anywhere in the world. So we kept a sharp eye out for Americans who
had not only achieved their dreams but were making the dreams of their
fellow citizens possible as well."
A few subjects may be familiar: astronaut Eileen Collins, author Jacquelyn
Mitchard and Chicago Cubs pitching coach Oscar Carlos Acosta, for example.
But most are ordinary people, local heroes at best, or heroes to their own
families or circle of friends.
They include such people as Sister Sylvia Schmidt, a Catholic nun who works
on behalf of the homeless in Tulsa, Okla.; Rubylinda Zickafoose, the child
of Florida migrant workers who now teaches elementary school and is working
on her Ph.D.; Bill and Karen McDonald, a Phoenix couple who eclipsed
emotional, geographic and bureaucratic hurdles to adopt a Vietnamese child.
As much as Americans tend to take their freedoms for granted, it will
come as no surprise that many of the book's most moving accounts about this
thing we call the American Dream come from those who fled to this country
from a more oppressive one.
Nosrat Solhjoo Scott, for example, who was persecuted in Iran for her
Bahai'i belief that all religions are essentially good, is now a force in
the Interfaith Council that has brought together people of many faiths in
culturally diverse South Florida. When she came to America, she simply
could not comprehend how she was so free to discuss the same ideas that
might have incited people in Iran to come to kill her with their shovels.
"E pluribus unum isn't just something Nosrat has read on the back of a
quarter," writes Rather. "It's her conviction and her way of life."
In the chapter that deals with the pursuit of happiness, Rather toys with
the concept of happiness, asking what it is. What did the nation's founders
have in mind when they penned that phrase, "life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness," in the Declaration of Independence?
In that same chapter, we meet Stacy and Mark Green who left California's
Orange County, one of the richest communities in the country, to find their
happiness in rural Oregon. In California, the couple had it all, or so it
would seem. But along with financial security and a nice home, they had the
stress of Mark's long hours at work, as well as time spent inching along
the freeway. It all added up to time away from the children.
On top of that was the Greens' growing discomfort with trendy values. They
began to worry about the moral compass they were providing their kids.
So they quit their jobs, pulled up stakes and moved away. "I hadn't done
anything really courageous in a long time," says Mark. Even though the money
isn't as good, they are both earning a living. But the best part is that
they now have time with their children and with each other, the kind of time
that wasn't there before. They have had time to become much more involved
in their community.
To some degree, all of the dream-chasers in this inspirational collection
have found a measure of happiness. Although each has walked a different
path, all represent freedom in action. And that, perhaps, is the common
thread. Happiness can be defined so many different ways in America. We
each, in truth, may define our own.
©Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune