As I was making breakfast this morning before I came to write on IntheCompanyofAngels, (I had felt a presence as soon as I awoke this morning), I found myself singing snatches of songs I used to sing in a show many years ago.
I saw images of soldiers in the uniforms of their era flash in quick succession before my eyes as I poured the egg whites into the pan and put the bread in the toaster. I thought about all those who gave their lives and risked everything to birth this nation, and to keep her free, and I thanked them. The Founding Fathers, the Continental Army, the soldiers of both sides of the Civil War, the Alamo, both World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the places that cannot be mentioned where our sons and daughters have fought and died so that our most precious of gifts, freedom (which is never free), would not be lost.
Then I turned my attention to the activities I’d been hearing so much about today: the parades, the fireworks, the barbeques and the beer, the extra time off from work because the 4th falls where it does this year, the sales that every store is advertising. It is not that I am belittling the gathering of family and friends. I just have the sense that perhaps we have lost sight of what this day really means.
When I was in High School, I was in an honors English class, and the teacher made us read some of the writings by the earliest of Americans.
One I remember that is of particular relevance this day is a piece by Thomas Paine, an 18th C. Enlightenment philosopher who wrote a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis from 1776-1783. Now, trust me when I say that when Mr. Benjamin (why is it I can remember his name when I detested all the extra work we had to do? Probably because it left a lasting impression on me) assigned this material, and then told us we had to MEMORIZE certain passages as part of our grade, I wanted to drop the class, but that’s not possible when you’re in High School.
Now I have to give thanks to Mr. Benjamin, because I’m calling that information up from the depths of my memory banks to use, finally. The pamphlet was written in December of 1776, and was read to the troops of the Continental Army on December 23, 1776, three days before the Battle of Trenton in an effort to boost morale, which was non-existent at this point.
The words that inspired the men were:
These are the times that try mens souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. ~Thomas Paine
That was the passage my English teacher told me I needed to memorize. These last words of that pamphlet I read for myself, and still remember:
…for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire. ~Thomas Paine
I find these last words comforting, for though it may appear that perhaps the flame of liberty has been partially extinguished by our collective complacency, within the hearts of all Americans lives the coal, the ember of liberty that, with a few breaths can once again burn brightly.
Now, go enjoy your time with your family and friends, with your fellow Americans.
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