Our flag was still there

At 7:30 p.m. with the youngest in bed and the second youngest about to retire, I presented the question of fireworks to my husband. “What do you think of me taking Miriam and James?” As with most questions, we returned to it fifteen minutes later, after ample interruptions. My husband considered, saw there were no obstacles, and said, “yeah, why not?” We put shoes on the kids and along with a blanket and two chairs and drove four miles south to the college to watch the Fireworks display. After considering parking at the junior high, or along the vineyard or at the park, I decided “why not?” and drove up to the college, saw ample parking, and made our way. We walked briskly, found a great quantity of grass for sitting. In view of the band and with a clear sky view of the azure stage for fireworks, we made ourselves comfortable.

It was 8:37 p.m.

The mayor came and the officials officiating congratulated themselves for a job well done. A young woman in a white dress briskly sang the National Anthem to which people attempted to applaud the high parts though she raced past them.

Oh, say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
For the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

She sang beautifully.

Can you picture it? In a time when a war might end but soldiers not find out for weeks? Then men fought through the night, going, going, going, unsure of the outcome but moving forward. As long as they could still see the flag, they knew they were not defeated. In an age when we can receive any signal or information through text, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, telephone, letter, page, courier, and what else, we forget, there was a time when you just waited and hoped.

We are so used to the incredible speed of communication that waiting for an answer makes us mad.

Last September and October were difficult months for my family. I could no longer consume the toxic waste spewed out by the political candidates and regurgitated by the news media. Like Jimmy Stewart broken at his darkest moment in the “Capra-corn” flick, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, my cynicism was at its worst. It was too much to care. Living in California, whatever I voted, our state would go Democrat so I voted for who I liked, avoiding the endorsement of personalities I could no longer stomach.

Sitting, waiting for answers. I took a long time before our personal struggles resolved. I know the feeling of waking up and seeing all was okay. Our flag was still there. Then I thanked God for the survival and hold fast to why it was worth fighting, to begin with.

In the end, I love our country. Days like the 4th of July, with the immense feeling of the National Anthem, the verses of “America the Beautiful,” and festive gatherings remind me of the heart of this country. It is remarkable. It has never been perfect. It never will be perfect. Nothing in life can be. In the end, my cynicism cools, and I am just a sap.

Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

For the land of the free, and the home of the brave.


The Good Life

What do “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” even mean? Free to live my life and pursue happiness? Carl Rogers thought so. He thought whatever you wanted was justified. So he left his ill wife and pursued happiness.

John Stuart Mill said as long as it does not hurt anyone, we should go for it. Is that what it means?

They said men have been given inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Inalienable” means unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.

Have you ever thought of how bold this is? If it cannot be taken away or given away, this means, my life exists even if I am killed by another. I believe my soul will exist for eternity, but several of these writers were more Deists than Christians, so the soul belief is not necessarily what was meant here. The power of life. No matter what you do to me, I will be remembered, I will live on, the power of my life still exists.

Liberty? I wrote about freedom at this time last year: the difference between exterior freedom and interior freedom.

“The convict, prisoner of war, kidnapped child can engage in mental activity that takes them beyond their borders. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, thought, imagination, conversation, learning, teaching, exercise—whether with people or without—these are actions a person can take when faced with terrible circumstances. He decides not to be governed by the circumstances, but to make the most of it, to stay mentally and physically active and to let his or her mind be free.”

The pursuit of happiness? This seems the most elusive when it is 100 outside (or more as we have experienced), bills must be paid, children fed, errands run. They put the pursuit of happiness as something that cannot be taken from the possessor. That means, in any circumstance be it during a heat wave or endless rain, during the birth of a new baby or the loss of a child, during a wedding or at the end of a divorce, we can still seek happiness.

This is not the sort of happiness that comes and goes. That happiness is more accurately called pleasure. It feels good. Life does not feel good. So pleasure cannot be that happiness the pursuit of which no one can take from us. Money can be taken all too easily. In times of sickness or a really bad recession, we can not always pursue it. A good name? To be well-liked? People are fickle, particularly towards those well known and particularly online.

No, the sort of happiness is the one in which we find fulfillment, as a gravedigger in the cemetery, an x-ray technician, a massage therapist or a teacher. We can live a life with interior freedom, free from addictions and self-implemented rigid expectations about the rules of how one ought to live. It is when we are free to choose the best path, the moral path, the one that not only “does no harm,” but benefits the people around us. It is the sort of pursuit of happiness that turns terrible experiences into pearls of wisdom for the next generation. It is the sort of pursuit that creates a country that becomes an international model for religious liberty and human rights. It is a powerful achievement, full of mistakes, rarely done perfectly, but possible. It is the good life.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash