Monday, February 8, 2010

Homage and Recompense to America: Patriotic Citizenship Can Pay Our Debt

I live in a land that proffers privileges, prospects, and peace—all blessings that I have not warranted on my own merits. I was born in the United States of America just over two score years ago to loving, idealistic parents who were free to welcome me to a peaceful home, hometown, and homeland. Throughout my life, I have accepted, unwittingly, my autonomy and safety as I lived under the care and direction of my family, then emerged into my adulthood, making choices and progress, all the while unencumbered by threats or uncertainty of government coercion. Because of the arbitrary fortune of my hailing from this country, my spirit has never known anything besides freedom in its motherland. And I have never given one day of formal service to my country. But to bask in this inconceivable, inestimable blessing without showing the gratitude of patriotism is unthinkable to me.
In my little corner of the country, the most fitting and effective way that I can demonstrate grateful patriotism is to embrace and emulate the ideals that our Founding Fathers had in mind when they set out to engender a flourishing democracy in a “more perfect Union.” They hoped that Americans would love liberty and equality. They took for granted that we would have faith in the Almighty. And I believe that they trusted that we would strive for and promote good character, hard work, civility, and honesty, and especially that we would teach these to our children. As such, Katherine Lee Bates, a teacher in 1893, penned the words of “America the Beautiful,” in which she paired the astounding physical attributes of America’s beauty and strength—purple mountains, amber waves, fruited plains, alabaster cities, and shining seas—to compelling and worthy qualities of American character—brotherhood, self-control, liberating strife, love for country, and [determined] patriot dream. The character I emulate and teach to my children ought to recall and perpetuate the ideals upon which this nation—where I abide peacefully and freely—was founded.
As American citizens, we know that we ought to expect and fight for our rights and entitlements as designated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We are avidly interested and active in making sure that we receive that to which we are entitled by virtue of our residence in this country; and, while the delivery of our rights and privileges is not always seamless because of varied constitutional interpretation and timely evolving issues, realization of rights and freedom remain at the forefront of American government ideals. However, while we are demanding that we receive our due as citizens, many are not, conversely, giving what they ought to be giving as individuals who appreciate and deserve the great gifts of American citizenship. Indeed our rights, as endowed by our Creator, may be “unalienable,” but so must be our patriotic obligation. We must not allow the confusion and corruption of bipartisanship and increasingly hedonistic entitlement in our land to blur the obligation we have to be contributing, civil, truthful, and beholden American patriots.
The example that mature Americans set for the youth in this country will be a determinant of the ultimate upholding of the ideals of our Founding Fathers and of the foundational tenets of democracy—indeed of whether this democracy ultimately endures. Sadly, the energies that adults often expend on demanding “justice” for themselves and hating those of different persuasions are often the most prevalent illustrations of citizenship that their children witness. If children observe their parents, teachers, and role models contending noisily for rights and privileges, and if this is not complemented by the same people being tax-paying, law-upholding, leader-supporting, worthy cause-promoting, patriotic citizens, then this incongruity of taking-without-giving will perpetuate through subsequent generations and will prove the eventual demise of American democracy. Far better for American young people to see their mature counterparts promoting traditional ideals, serving in causes for worthy change and improvement, being honest and civil, respecting leadership and the law, and demonstrating patriotic appreciation and support in general—just as the inspired Founding Fathers intended.
The establishment and emergence of our young country has not been unflawed and without faltering and fumbling along the way. Abraham Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address, reminded citizens (in 1861and, I believe, now): “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.” The United States of America is founded on timeless, effective principles which allow its citizens peace, happiness, liberty, and prosperity. Americans must recognize the unmatched fortuity of our citizenship; we must not take this supreme blessing for granted, rather, we must demonstrate our gratitude and worthiness of this fortune by striving continually to be citizens who emulate virtue and character.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


One recent afternoon when I was feeling particularly swamped with my list of tasks that seemed absolutely necessary to accomplish within an impossibly few hours, a ten-year-old neighbor boy, Jerome, arrived at my home as he often did after school until his single mother returned home from work, and he wanted to use my computer to work on a paper he had to do for school. Jerome did not have a computer at home, and so he and I had an understanding that our family computer was his, too, whenever he needed to use it for a school project. I set aside my bustling for a few moments as I set my young friend up on the computer. I then told him that I would be doing my chores, but that he could call me if he needed me; then quickly I resumed whatever I had been working on, also replacing one earbud in my ear so that I could resume listening to whatever book I had recorded on my MP3 player. (Being a multi-tasker, I love to listen to books when I am doing housework.) I hurriedly carried on with my work, listening to my audiobook with one ear, but noticing with my other ear that I wasn’t hearing much of the clicking of keyboard keys coming from my office. After a few moments, Jerome called my name. I came to the office, noticed that he had typed only a few words onto the screen, and I answered some simple question that he had, then returned to my work again. This happened several other times, and each time I noticed that Jerome had made little if any progress on the screen. I thought of the mountain that I believed I needed to move in the next hour or so, and then I looked at a young boy who wanted my help—or perhaps just my attention. I pulled up an additional chair, suggested that he dictate to me while I typed, and he unfolded a simple, beautiful story of his favorite Christmas. We spent the next half hour together at the computer, after which we printed a lovely story with which we were both delighted. Jerome then followed me to the kitchen where I gave him a snack. My unattended tasks seemed inconsequential for the moment. My heart was lifted and I felt joy—not at any personal heroics, but at Jerome’s satisfaction with his work and my privilege to assist with it. He had blessed me by inviting my help, as now I felt love and levity that had not been in my heart an hour beforehand.
Another busy afternoon when I was working at home, Jerome came over again, and this time he announced that he needed to complete a report on penguins by the following day, and he said that his mother had told him to come to my house to get it done. I didn’t have any books on penguins, and, my immediate, annoyed thoughts were, Couldn’t Jerome’s mom, busy as she is, just have run her son by the library after work one night? What could be more important than that? Did she really expect me to drop everything with no notice at all so that Jerome could get his project done by the next day? Because I’m working from home, she thinks I have all the time and flexibility in the world to wait for her kid to show up so I can do the things she ought to be doing to support his schoolwork. But here Jerome was, and, as I considered the task in which I had been engaged, I noted that its importance and urgency did not outweigh Jerome’s project, and, I realized gratefully that I did have flexibility and that he was important enough to set my other work aside for awhile. My son Shane wanted to help, too, so the three of us jumped into the car, went to the library, and scoured the shelves in the juvenile section until we found the best book about penguins.
On the way home, I asked Jerome to begin searching the book so that he would be prepared to write his report when we got back to the house. When we returned home, I asked Jerome, “Do you know what you want to say in your report?”
He pointed to a particular page and told me, “I’m just gonna copy this part.”
Ensuing from this, of course, was a discussion on plagiarism and how he needed to use his words in his paper. Jerome was surprised, and he seemed discouraged. I had hoped that this time he would sit at the computer and do the typing himself, because, at this point, I really needed to get back to my work, but I could see that he still needed help. My teen-aged daughter Lacey, who had just asked to borrow the car so she could go to a friend’s house, agreed to delay her own plans so that she could sit and help Jerome. I told her, “Jerome needs to use his own words, but you can help him organize his ideas and get it typed.” I was grateful to Lacey for her cheerful willingness to help our young friend. I left the two of them to the task, and, as I went about my own work, I could hear them laughing several times, and I could hear Lacey patiently guiding Jerome in his efforts to construct the paper.
An hour or so later, when the two of them had finished, Jerome told me that his mother wanted me to drop him off at home. As Lacey was still waiting to use the car, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind dropping Jerome off first, to which she cheerfully agreed. Then, Jerome asked whether I wanted him to read his penguin report to me. I felt badly for asking Lacey to wait again, but she seemed to want him to have the chance to share the paper with me. Jerome read his paper slowly and proudly over the next several minutes, and when he had finished, he was literally beaming. I couldn’t help but hug him, and Lacey was evidently happy as well for having been instrumental in helping a little boy feel so wonderful about a small accomplishment. I thanked Lacey, feeling lighthearted myself. Later I sent Lacey an additional thank-you in a text message, telling her, “That was wonderful of you. You helped him perfectly. He felt so good about his paper. Thanks for helping him.” A short time later, Lacey replied, “I didn’t mind at all. I liked helping him, especially seeing how happy it made him.”