12/01/2010 08:57 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

One Nation Indivisible: We're All in This Together

"We're all in this thing together
Walkin' the line between faith and fear
This life don't last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears"
-- Old Crow Medicine Show

I've been out of school long enough not to remember the last time I recited The Pledge of Allegiance, but not long enough that I don't remember it. There's one word in particular that as a youth I always had trouble pronouncing and probably didn't even understand until I was an adult. And now it seems as though that word might have lost its meaning entirely.

The word is "indivisible," as in "one nation ... indivisible." You know, indivisible as in united, inseparable, blended and conjoined. Indivisible as in "United we stand, divided we fall." Indivisible as in we are all in this together. Not indivisible as in "one nation, red and blue, Fox and MSNBC, Tea Party and Progressive, I'm right and you're wrong."

In urging his fellow patriots (or were they traitors to the British crown?) to sign the just-written, fully discussed and heavily edited Declaration of Independence, John Hancock noted the need for everyone to sign so that they could "hang together" rather than "hang alone." So those men from large and small states, who were merchants and plantation owners, lawyers and men of the cloth, realizing the only way it could ever work was for them to work together, pledged their fortunes, their sacred honor and even their lives to an idea -- one nation, indivisible.

Somehow, our perspective has changed from one of us to one of me and mine. We have decided during these uncertain times not to expand though loving and acceptance, through non-judgment and tolerance, but rather to contract through blame and fault, through fear and smear. We have chosen to emphasize conflict over resolution, right and wrong over workable, and differences over similarities. In those choices we have lost that connection that made us all -- every single one of us -- Americans. We no longer see ourselves as part of the ideal of "E Pluribus Unum." We are no longer out of many, one. We've lost our connection, and as a result have moved from joyful to sad.

Once an unhappy young man came to an old Master looking for a solution to his sadness. The Guru instructed the young lad to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.

"How does it taste?" the Master asked.

"Awful, how do you think?" replied the youth.

The Master laughed and told the boy that they were about to take a short trip. The two walked in silence to a nearby lake, where the old man gave the young one another handful of salt and then asked him to put it in the lake. When the lad swirled his handful of salt into the sparkling water, the old man instructed him, "Now drink." He cupped his hands, filled them and drank. As the water dripped down the youngster's chin, the Master asked, "How does it taste?"

"Good!" the boy replied, somewhat surprised.

"Do you taste the salt?" asked the Master.

"No," answered the young man, even more surprised.

The Master sat down beside this troubled young man, took his hands, and said, "The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount we taste the 'pain' depends on the container we put it into. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake!"

We are all in this thing together. I propose that we act like it and choose to become not just a lake but an ocean. And the only way I know how to do that is to make nothing more important than the loving. And in that loving we must see the truth that is part of every idea and accept the spirit of giving in which it is offered. And if we must call one another a name, let that name be "American."

Jan Shepherd is a transformational coach who lives in Southern California. As a transformational guide, she has worked closely with individual clients and families and has helped many to transform their lives and experience all that life has to offer. Learn more at