I don’t mind driving alone if Darling Husband cannot come with me. Today was such a day. I spent hours alone with Jon Meacham and his quite wonderful new book on Audible: “The Soul of America.” I recommend it to you as a great Christmas/Hanukkah gift. It is a historical look at how the nation has tried, failed and still tried again to build our national character and define our leaders.
But my real point is that I spent hours in a moderate to hard rain driving for more than four hours, and oddly enough I witnessed our American character all over the place.
Many of us seem to think that driving 15 miles above the limit is a right and holds no danger for them or others, even in pouring rain. These folks don’t seem to care about safety, rule of law or the character of “when no one is looking, I do the right thing.”
It was Veterans Day, and I was thinking a lot about my father, uncles and many friends who served years ago and recently. I was touched by the vets who held the door for me at a gas stop. I was honored to thank them and pleased that they came in all ages, shapes and sizes. I have no idea who they voted for, or what their religion or sexual orientation is. They are men and women who made my life possible.
I was thinking about our visit a couple of years ago to the cemetery in Normandy and the rows upon rows of headstones. Jewish, black, sons of recent immigrants, Christian, probably gay and straight, and how they lay in rows of equal spacing and equal honor. How they died in horrible ways and quiet ways. How their last thoughts were probably of their wife, mom, home and not of anything larger.
I thought of us here in Moore County, with all of our diversity that often feels like we aren’t a “band of brothers” but little bubbles of security of wealth and insecurity of not wealth. These sort of dates — Veterans Day and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July — are the days we need to go inward instead of outward. To try to reach back to the camaraderie we felt in supporting each other in wars and the war effort.
Of course Vietnam was not like that. And folks in my age range were too young to know that we should love the soldier even when we hate and protest the war. I am deeply sorry that I was not more mature. Our being right about the war is of no comfort to my “band of brothers” from that time.
What do driving in the rain and soldiers have to do with each other? We are in that time of year when we sacrifice turkeys, ham and pies to the glorification of our lucky selves brought to you by those who sacrifice. And our way of thanking all of those who give today and gave yesterday might better be to live with a bit more character.
Drive the limit, help someone with a problem, let your neighbor be a Republican or Democrat without hassle. Allow us all to remember the First Amendment, the one above all others:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Within these few words are enshrined our obligations to be open and ever accepting. Should we not — in our cars, in our homes and hearts — obey our written law to honor those who gave so much to keep laws going? Should we not keep our minds open and free of fear of others as much as possible? We have come so far, the least we can do is keep striving for that “more perfect union” with our “better angels.”
When prejudice and hatred come into our minds, we forget our obligations and our service to a higher governance, that which the Constitution strives for, perhaps never to be fully obtained, but to be hoped for. We are the fabric that is woven in these words.
As you head into Thanksgiving, drive the limit, help others and strive to live by the First Amendment. We have been trying since 1791, and there is no reason to stop now.