Let freedom ring

Here it comes again.

The Fourth of July. The day on which we annually celebrate the birth of our nation. Picnics. Fireworks. Flags unfurled in the breeze. A euphoric sense of liberation.

As Americans, we are darned pleased with ourselves most of the time. We are, after all, the richest nation in the world – unless, of course, per capita income is the measure. Then we fall to the tenth.

Our ranking also drops when generosity is considered. New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and Canada all beat us, according to Gallup’s World Giving Index, which looks at surveys and research on 153 countries.

We are, however,  indisputably the most powerful nation in the world – at least to our way of thinking. Some sources put China at the top. Fortunately, for us, those sources are few and far between at present. Most tend to agree that we’re No. 1.

We have a right to feel pleased with ourselves. Right? We’re rich. We’re powerful. We’re a democracy. What more could we possibly want?

Seriously, what more could we possibly want?

The answer depends upon who answers the question. Me? I think we need to recapture a spirit that was lost in recent decades – a commitment to the common good.

History shows us that folks have always bickered amongst themselves. I read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson was chosen to pen the Declaration of Independence because his views were moderate. John Adams was an outspoken supporter of independence. It was feared, I recall, that any document Adams penned would be considered biased.

However, Jefferson did not work alone. Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, in addition to Jefferson and Adams, were on the committee responsible for drafting the Declaration. Then, the Continental Congress debated it for four days, making revisions.

Still, Jefferson is considered the author, and most Americans know at least one glorious line from it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Apparently, Adams resented Jefferson for years – if not the rest of his life – because of the fame he gained for his work on the Declaration. So, if President No. 2 doesn’t like President No. 3, right there in the early years of our nation, is it surprising that we have the same kind of bickering going on today? It’s in the blood, so to speak.

But, despite the bickering, we didn’t flounder as a nation. We prospered.

Some of our greatest moments, though, came out of a commitment to the common good. Tom Brokaw reminded us of this when he wrote about the generation who grew up during the privations of the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. Those folks didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” They sacrificed for the common good.

They were not the first. As our nation expanded from 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, our schools, churches  and communities grew because people worked for the common good. Our infrastructure was put in place by those working for the common good.

Somewhere, we’ve lost a sense of that. Now, we want and want and want, and whenever possible, we want something for nothing. We want good schools and good roads and services for all kinds of folks (though some balk at helping the poor), but we don’t want to pay for them.

We don’t want to invest in our communities, in our state or in our nation. It makes me wonder how free we actually are, how patriotic, and what it really means today to honor the flag.

About the only ones I see who reflect the values that built our nation are those who serve in our military. What about the rest of us?


When cats were gods

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”

— Terry Pratchett

I can personally attest to this.

And to the fact they have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about suggesting they be returned to this status. I have given up attempting to persuade mine they are mistaken.

Michael, a grey and white cat I received as a gift 14 years ago, will sleep on a pillow by my head. Period. Izzie, a large orange cat who is a mere four years old, will scratch cardboard boxes, and if deprived of this source, will substitute my jean-clad leg until I give him a box. Non-negotiable. Jakie, his litter mate, also orange, insists upon having a treat whenever I sit down to read, and not just any treat, either a catnip or salmon-flavored treat.

They must have canned catfood once a day or I don’t get any sleep, and not just any canned catfood, one of the fish varieties of Fancy Feast. When I eat yogurt, Jake and Izzie will share the last spoonful in the carton, but I had better have Yoplait Light and Creamy or Yoplait Whips.

The thing about living with cats, though, is this: their needs help structure life and they provide companionship. I sometimes  joke it’s like living with perpetual toddlers, because they are demanding and affectionate, most often when I have the least amount of time to meet their needs.

At other times, though, I wonder if they’re angels in disguise. Saturday morning will roll around, and I will feel inclined to indulge myself by sleeping in or by grabbing a mystery to read in bed. They will attempt to persuade me that another option – like getting up to feed them – is more attractive.

Because little cat teeth nipping at fingers can be quite persuasive. I will crawl out of bed to open a couple cans of Fancy Feast. While I am in the kitchen, I will put on some coffee and before long, I will find myself engaged in something entirely unrelated to sleeping in. And feeling good about it.

Then I smile with gratitude, because my persistent little beasts have given me a gift I would have thrown away – time. There never seems to be enough time in a day. That’s a cliche, but it’s cliche because it’s true.

Morning comes, bringing work responsibilities. The work day ends and it’s time to face a to-do list which often includes household chores or community activities. Occasionally, there’s time to simply pause and savor the pleasure of doing nothing, or of engaging in an activity for the simple pleasure it brings. But, not often enough.

So, when my little beasties give me time to do exactly that, I have to wonder if they do it for themselves or if they do it for me. Are they cats, or are they angels in disguise?

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