From Sea To Shining Sea

Happy Fourth of July!!!  Glad Independence Day!!!!  From sea to shining sea we are grateful for this land in which we live — with our many, sometimes horrific, faults but too, all of our wonders.   Today we celebrate the brave souls who stepped outside tradition, insisting that having a voice in their governing was more important than safety, comfort and correctness.   I often wonder whether I’d have been a secure and law-abiding Tory or an indignant and passionate rebel on Bunker Hill.   It is easy to think, from a distance, that we would have stood for independence — but would we?  And have we “kept the faith”? —- Do we govern ourselves well?  Dwight D. Eisenhower* said: “May we pursue the right – without self-righteousness.  May we know unity — without conformity.  May we grow in strength — without arrogance.  May we, in our dealings with all peoples of the earth, ever speak truth and serve justice.  May the light of freedom, coming to all darkened lands, flame brightly.”   I’m afraid we’ve failed this test many times over the years, including today.  Fortunately, there is always hope for the future.

Many enjoy the bombastic side of Independence Day; the Star-Spangled Banner, the parades and the fireworks!! (I love fireworks!)  But at this contentious point in our existence I’d rather sing a particular folk song as a reminder that “This land is your land; this land is my land, from California to the New York Island.  From the redwood forests to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.”** That “you and me” includes those people who were here in the early mists of time, the people more recently who were here before we Europeans ever set foot on this land and those who continue to come looking for freedom from oppression.    And that brings to mind this song; both verses!   Verse#1: “This is my country, land of my birth; this is my country grandest on earth.”  And then Verse #2, often forgotten: “This is my country, land of my choice; this is my country, hear my proud voice.”*** We are made up of diverse peoples —wonderful people — from all over the world.  United we are both formidable and amazing.  Broken into elite cliques, hate groups or just apathetic, non-caring people, we are weak and disappointing.

Rod McKuen**** is a 20th-century poet who had something to say about living in this country:“As we finally learn the power bright and shining in each one of us —-it is only what’s absorbed or given back to this great country and its populace—– to our America – yours and mine.  A handshake is my pledge of allegiance.  My anthem is my brother’s shoulder.  My flag is the smile on every face stopping long enough to return my own.  We’ve come down the road a long way —- but there are miles as yet un-walked; as yet unpaved.  It may take until the tri-centennial of our nation to achieve our goals — to make each human being born or coming here, feel human —- but by God, by each other or by the time we proudly thrust our way to yet another planet, the nation will be whole…”


We all need to assess how our choices and behaviors affect the world around us.   And we need to cease thinking life is all about us, as well as being grateful for the wonderful options and experiences that we have.   Gratitude —- a good way of celebrating the birthday of our nation.  

Our “It’s about ME” culture emphasizes our individual right to do as we please in our search for happiness no matter who gets hurt in the process.  My parents’ generation subscribed to the “do your duty, always be polite and catch moments of happiness as you go along” philosophy.  I hope that there is a “middle road” between self indulgence and dogged duty.  Somehow, we humans have trouble with balance and moderation.  Taking good care of the person/body/mind with which we’ve been gifted should definitely be a priority.  But so should using our gifts and skills to benefit the whole.   We only develop muscle by using muscle.  We only develop wisdom and expand our ability to love by using what we now have as a base for growth.

There have been a few people along my path that I’ve found very difficult to love – or even like.  They aren’t necessarily bad people (although there have been a couple of those), but for one reason or many, I just don’t like them very much (“I do not like thee Dr. Fell; the reason why I cannot tell….”).   However, agape love does not require that we like someone.   Agape is the Greek word for love that wants the best for someone regardless; it is a spiritual growth love that may require action on our part.  It is possible, I’ve discovered, to wish a person well without really enjoying their company.  And the more I get to know a person — their background, their difficulties, their hopes and dreams —- the easier it is to find empathy for them regardless of my opinion of their personality or behavior.  I assume this is a small upward development of my altruistic “muscles” of caring for the whole.   I can’t say that I am always successful, but I’m working on it. 

With summer comes much to do.  The garden calls, as do friends who are in the area for the summer.  Spencer Picnic is only two weeks away.  Our family picnic is a whole month away, but that month will fly by and there are cookies to bake; pineapple, ginger, chocolate.   I’m also trying to work on staying mobile.  The Bone-Builders program keeps me fairly strong and moving (we also exchange books and laugh a lot), but due to extenuating circumstances, we won’t be meeting again until September, so must do things on my own.   My motivation is the need to feel stable when walking on uneven ground or when bending to weed the garden.  It’s also really handy to be able to move safely when hurrying out to break up a cat fight or chase away bears.  {As a side note, we hope that the bears have settled in some nice spot full of blueberries and other wild fruit and that no more of the furry ursine creatures will wander through our yard until next May and June.}

As the days flow into July, it is good to look back to June, with gratitude.  Our “new” young pastor was installed as the permanent spiritual leader for our congregation on June 22nd, after being on a year-to year contract.   It was a beautiful and impressive service with a fun and chatty dish-to-pass afterward.  There were guests from Presbytery, area pastors, family and friends from as far away as Spokane, and the Chaplain from Princeton Theological Seminary gave the charge to the pastor.   Many of the clergy wore their impressive red stoles to add theological weight to the occasion.  ☺ The choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus as a musical rejoicing that Sabrina will be here for a while.

We’ve had good times with several friends who came to visit; friends who have been part of our lives for a lot of years but live at a distance.  There were occasions with birthday cakes, congratulatory events for graduates and times of singing.  There were sad times when we mourned with friends in their losses, and still have moments when the waves of grief hit hard and tears flow.***** 

We have, during June, enjoyed each flower as it came to blossoming maturity in the garden —- tall spicy valerian, lilacs with their signature scent, viburnum carlesii, with its very strong sweet aroma, splashy peonies and now roses spilling over the fences.  There’s also the goutweed that we missed when weeding earlier— it now stands four feet tall with lacy white flowers trying to look as though it belonged with the things we actually planted.  The potato plants are high and blooming, due to the generous rain.  The birds seem more relaxed now that the feeders aren’t currently being raided by bears and doves’ cooing comes floating in our bedroom window far too early in the morning. 

After today with its fireworks and picnics, I hope your July is filled with good summer fun —- friends, sunshine, just the right number of rain showers and lots of down time for reading and dreaming.  If you are grieving, may the summer bring a measure of healing and peace.  And whether traveling in the skies, on the highways or via a good book, we can all take pleasure in the wondrous country entrusted to us.   Perhaps we can put forth effort to restore what has been neglected or destroyed, while applauding the good that surely exists in so many small spots, from sea to shining sea.  We open our senses to summer.

Carol may be reached at:

*Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1890 – 1969, 34th president of the United States from 1953-1961.

**”This Land Is Your Land” – song written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, based on an existing melody from the Carter Family, “When The World’s On Fire”.

***”This Is My Country” — Words written by Don Raye  

****Rod McKuen —American poet, composer and singer.  Known for his perceptive thoughts and gravelly voice.  1933-2015.

*****I found an excellent reflection on grief in Max Lucado’s book: Facing Your Giants.

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