This summer (thanks to the Fox PTA) I attended the July Writing Institute at Columbia Teachers College. This program is the root of the reading/writing workshop you see in Room 204. We talked about our “writing territories.” Our writing territories are the topics in our lives that matter the most to us– the things we know about. I knew what mattered to me: my son was a Marine serving in Iraq. In New York this summer, I tried to turn this writing territory into words, but the words would not come.
In the middle of this experience I walked past the bust of John Dewey (resisting the urge to nod) to check my email in the library. There was an email from my son. He’d attached his writing–something he’d written on the Fourth of July:
I sang to myself the Star-Spangled Banner today as I flew over Iraq in a V-22 Osprey with an American flag hoisted at the rear of the bird. “This is how I’m spending my Fourth of July,” I thought. “No fireworks, no cookouts, no baseball…no independence.”
It’s not about independence, though, in the strictest sense of the word. I’ve always preferred to think of the holiday as the Fourth of July rather than Independence Day, because there was so much more taking place on the Fourth of July, 1776, in Philadelphia than the mere transition from colony to sovereign nation. Today we celebrate the spirit that led those men to sign the Declaration, the inspiration reflected in its words, the honor and courage exhibited by the Founding Fathers to which we all should aspire.
O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? The question, in my mind, is not in the first clause, but in the second. Have we kept close the touchstone of the founding principles, free thinking, the equal stature of all men, the rule of law, the courage to stand for what is right? Have we ensured every day that our neighbors live free of fear, free of oppression, free to choose the lives that they live? Have we been brave on behalf of those who are weak to secure the most basic blessings of liberty for all people?
There is no doubt that our Flag flies high atop every statehouse, schoolhouse and courthouse; in front of our homes, at embassies in the nations of the world, and anywhere our troops defend it. It is the second clause to which we must attend.
And so I recall that over six years ago I gave of myself hopefully for the benefit of others, but not knowing of whom. I gave up birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and many memories. I did so gladly, and for good reason. Defense of freedom is not an empty phrase, nor, more importantly, is it an idea from which any of us is exempt. Our Founding Fathers were convicted to fight for a greater America. That is a fight which will never be won, and that is a conviction which every one of us must carry on.
I may not be free to spend this day as I wish, where I wish, or with whom I wish. But I can d*** sure remember why I am here. And I can celebrate.
Finally, there were words. They were his words. It was his story to tell– his writing territory.
We have so much to be thankful for. His four year old daughter will have her daddy back. He will meet his six month old baby for the first time. His wonderful wife will go out to California this week to welcome him home. We’ve all been waiting… and now we can celebrate. We can breathe.