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My Weekly Column

It Is Not All Bad

December 3, 2017

Just before Thanksgiving, I was asked to give a short speech regarding those aspects of our nation and its founding for which I am thankful.  Considering what a downer this site often is, I thought why not put it here, too?  The truth is, I’m grateful to have been given a topic that forced me to consider the good things in life.  It’s not all bad, is it?

I consider us very blessed to have such diverse geography across the country.  From snow-capped mountains, to sandy beaches, to canyons and valleys and rivers, we have it all.  We even have a mountain with four giant faces carved into it.  What other country can say that? No matter what sort of environment you enjoy, you can find it somewhere here.  If you like it hot and humid, head to the southeast.  If you like hot and dry, head to the southwest.  If you like cold weather and lots of winter activities, head north between Maine and Wyoming, or even farther north and hit Alaska. If you like it somewhere between really hot and really cold, head to my neck of the woods here in Virginia where we still get to enjoy four seasons without the extremes, usually.  And especially at this time of year when the leaves turn and become bursts of oranges and yellows and reds and the air becomes crisp and cool in the evening.  Here in VA there is a road known as Skyline Drive that winds its way through a section of the Appalachian Mountains.  Built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the road is broken up every so often with stunning views of valleys bursting in oranges and yellows and reds.  It is truly beautiful and inspires an awe and reverence that you don’t find everywhere.

Up next on my gratitude list is my fellow citizens.  Well, most of them anyway.  I believe that the  majority of our population is comprised of decent, honest, hard-working people.  We are lectured daily on how divided we are as a nation and a society and if you follow the media or spend a lot of time on the internet or social media, that certainly seems to be the case.  It is commonplace to go online after some tragedy such as the one at the church in Texas recently and read comments saying that the victims deserved their fate because they probably supported the wrong political candidates, or they didn’t support the right public policies.  We are being separated along so many lines – by gender, by ethnicity, by lifestyle, by language, by politics, by religion, by income, by education.  And to what end? What benefit is there in constantly eroding any sense of community among people expected to live together?  I’m not sure there is one.

Hurrican Harvey Houston Helpers

It is my belief that the true character of this nation, the character not seen in popular media, is that of the respondents to the hurricanes that impacted Houston and Puerto Rico. When those hurricanes struck, and the damage became so severe, we saw what we are capable of. Members of communities helping each other simply because they needed help. People from all over the country heading to affected areas to do what they could to help. People who couldn’t travel contributing time and money and resources to those who lost everything. The great part, though, is that this is not unusual. This same theme plays out after every large-scale disaster. But that generosity of spirit and desire to be of service to others is not reserved for big events.  How often do you see communities pull together when a family is facing a difficult circumstance, such as a child with a serious disease? Growing up in a small town in “fly-over” country, it was commonplace to see local establishments hosting parties to raise money for the family. I travel a bit for work to small towns and cities throughout the country and I still see those same fliers and advertisements to help a family, or stop by a local grocery store to buy a hamburger in support of a local Boy Scout troop or school extracurricular group.  We are a fundamentally decent society; we largely want the same things for each other – shelter, health, food, employment, education and opportunities for the kids.  We may differ on ideas as to how best to provide those things as widely and to as many people as possible but at the end of the day we are all, to a large extent, striving for the same goals.

The last thing that I’ll mention is my appreciation for an idea.  A rather simple yet profound idea – that human beings should be free to choose their own path in life. That they should have the ability to rise or fall, to be successful or unsuccessful, to pursue their passions, based on their own free will. It is this simple idea, passed down through the centuries, that motivated a relative handful of people to throw off the chains that bound them and start a new adventure of their own making.

This country, and others like it, though, are an anomaly. Over the course of humanity’s existence, the majority of people have lived in some sort of bondage, whether full chattel slavery, serfdom, peonage or under the boot of some tyrant or oppressive government. And that is still true of many people around the world today.  And for the first 85 years or so of this country, bondage was practiced in this country and that is something that we will never, and should never, lose sight of. However, the people who created this nation created a system premised on universal individual liberty, and no nation with that as its founding principle could ever survive the bondage of its citizens. It took time and struggle, but despite the protestations of our universities, liberty is now given to every citizen of this nation.

That is something to be grateful for. Whenever I think of the founding of the country, I always try to think of the people who did the work. We know of Franklin and Adams and Jefferson, of course, but they were only 3 of the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence. What happened to the others?

"Rugged Despair, Valley Forge 1778" by Greg Harlin

  • 5 were captured and tortured as traitors to the crown
  • 9 fought for the Continental Army and died from wounds or other hardship during the war
  • Many had their homes pillaged and destroyed, some were left destitute and died penniless
  • New Jersey judge Richard Stockton was beaten and thrown in jail.  As a result, he died before the end of the war. His surviving family lived off of charity.
  • Another New Jersey delegate, John Hart, was forced to live in the woods and caves for a year. When he returned home, he found his home and farm destroyed and his wife was dead. He never saw his 13 kids again and died only 3 years after signing the Declaration.
  • According to estimates, over the course of the 8 years of the Revolution, over 200,000 people served in some capacity with the Continental Army. Of these, roughly 25,000 died either during battle, from wounds received or from disease. Many wounded returned home to face having to take care of a farm while missing an arm or a leg.

These men and women truly sacrificed to earn the liberty that we still enjoy today.

When you step take a moment to ponder life in these United States, we are truly blessed in a multitude of ways. That is the big picture.  We cannot allow the daily sound and fury of the world “out there” to distract us from that.