by Kari Diane Pike
Think of two things you would miss the most if you found yourself stranded on a deserted island, assuming you could find water, food, and shelter.
My trip to Europe last month brought a couple of seemingly small things to my attention that turned out to be kind of a big deal: ready access to free drinking water and free public toilets - even public toilets in general. Since returning home I've had a lot of time to ponder on the abundance and freedoms that I enjoy every day without giving them a second thought.
I remember an experience I had on July 4th a few years ago, as I listened to a young man home from a tour of duty in the Middle East. He shared a conversation he held with a friend he made there - a young man native to that country. He asked his friend, "If you could have one thing that the people in the U.S. have that you don't, what would it be?"
His friend didn't hesitate to answer. "I would love to have a big park with green grass and trees. I would love to have the freedom to walk through that park with my family every evening without the fear of being shot at."
The speaker continued to list things he learned to appreciate: running water twenty-four hours/day; reliable electricity all day, every day, etc.
Until then, I hadn't realized that a large percentage of countries lack the infrastructure needed to keep up with their populations demands for water and power. Communities have to take turns throughout the day to receive what most of us consider essential, basic needs.
While waiting in the dentist's office a couple of months ago, I met a dear lady who reminded me of something else for which I far too often neglect to express gratitude. I can't recall her name, but I learned she immigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East. Now a citizen of the United States, she works as a middle-grade school teacher.
During our conversation about culture and students and how things have changed over the years, she shared an experience she had in one of her classes. She noticed that a couple of her students stopped participating in the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. They also started making rude comments and acting disrespectful while the other students recited the Pledge. One morning, she had had enough. She demanded the students to stand and show respect. "You students have no idea what you are doing. You have no idea how important your freedom is. You don't know anything about it. You take everything for granted. You think everyone can walk down a street and hang out with their friends. You don't know anything!" She told me most of the students just stared at her. A couple of them laughed at her.
One young man scoffed. He looked at his classmates for support and then spoke out. "That's easy for you to say. You came here from a place that doesn't have anything. You came here so you could have more money and stuff. Everyone in this day and age has freedom to do what they want." Some of the students nodded their heads in agreement.
My new friend pointed her finger at the boy speaking, then glared at the rest of the class. "You have no idea what you are talking about. Let me tell you something. When I was growing up, my father managed an oil refinery. We had everything and anything we could want, every luxury. I had education and learned to speak several languages. We wanted for nothing...except the one thing we didn't have. We had no freedom. That is what we wanted most of all. We gave up everything to come to the United States. My father had $50.00 in his pocket when we came here. That's all he was allowed to bring. But it was worth it. You have no idea how much your freedom cost. You will stand and show respect in my class."
Her entire class now shows respect for our nation's flag.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017, our family attended the flag raising ceremony, bike parade, and pancake breakfast held at our church building. When a couple of scouts came out with the flag all crumpled up in their arms, my heart ached. What were they doing? Hadn't anyone taught them flag etiquette? But it got worse. The boys lifted the edge of the flag up to attach it to the ropes and as it opened up I felt sick to my stomach. The flag was faded and dirty and torn into shreds on the end.
I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. My husband joined me about then and I motioned toward the flag. "What in the world are they thinking? That flag needs to be retired. Where is the flag we usually fly?"
Doug left to search for the other flag only to discover that it was locked in an office cabinet and no one in attendance had the key. The old flag would have to do, or there would be no flag raising.
Tears blurred my vision as I listened to our nation's anthem play and watched that tattered, torn flag hang limp and wrinkled as the Scout's worked the pulleys. A couple of times the pulley got stuck and the scouts had to back it down a little before raising it again. I could almost hear that flag give a heavy sigh when it reached the top of the pole.
Everyone started to clap and cheer at the end of the anthem. A bit of wind kicked up and the breeze lifted the flag. It collapsed, then lifted again. Another gust of wind caught the flag and it flew straight and proud. Yes, it was beat up, but it flew. It flew proud. And in that moment, I remembered some history and how another battered flag flew in the glare of rockets and bombs bursting.
I couldn't help thinking how the condition of our country is kind of like that flag right now. We been bruised and frayed and torn apart by dissension. I realized even though we have taken a beating, everything is going to turn out okay. We can pause and "back up a bit" and take stock of our situation. We can correct our course and keep moving upward. It's not too late to unite our efforts to defend freedom. Our country can keep flying because it is "the land of the free because of the brave." Brave people who put their lives on the line to stand for home, family, and religion. Brave people who sacrifice everything they have in order to experience freedom. Brave people who get on their knees and pray, "God bless America!"
Life is magnificent.