Friday, July 06, 2007

Kids, the Country and Freedom

Yesterday we celebrated the Fourth of July, the birth of our nation and all that freedom stands for. Every year, I am hoping that my children gain a keener understanding that the initial freedom of these United States of America wasn’t “free,” and that even today, there is a price.

Given the times in which they are living – especially the years since September 11, 2001 – and the older brother who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” I believe they are getting the gist.

The kids have been fortunate enough to have visited London, Paris and Rome (that sounds like they’re some upscale store, doesn’t it?), as well as Northern Cyprus, the place their Evans’ grandmother now calls home. These trips have provided a taste, a peek, into other cultures and customs outside of their own, and have perhaps supplied a growing appreciation of the differences between our country and others. But I think a good look at some of the United States is in order for them as well.

Two summers ago I loaded up the car with Janet, now 14, and Jack, now 11, and drove from Connecticut to Wyoming, where Janet has been attending camp, and where we spend a chunk or chunkette of the summer each year. Primarily we saw more amber waves of grain then we cared to, until we reached the purple mountain majesty of which we are already familiar. I dashed so fast across the Midwest that they really didn’t get much of a taste for what lies between sea to shining sea.

This year I hope to allow for more than a snippet of America.

At the start of next week Janet, a friend of hers from camp, my son Kenny, 22, and I will climb into my SUV in search of America. (Okay, so I exaggerate a bit; we are driving to Wyoming to pick Jack up from camp and deliver Janet to same camp for her session, and kick back in Jackson Hole for a month). But a good part of America will be searched! I want the kids to see that the diversity of America isn’t only present in the landscape but also in her citizens.

I’d like to have a leisurely lunch near Pennsylvania-Dutch country, so that they might see an Amish village, a buggy, a Lancaster county family up close. To witness in the flesh that not all teenage girls feel a need to, nor can they, dress head-to-toe in Abercrombie or Hollister or Ralph Lauren. Stop for gas and a soda in Illinois, catching a few rays of sun beside a corn field where somebody’s father works the land with nary a Blackberry in sight. Kenny and I want to drive down a piece of the infamous Route 66, starting probably from south of Chicago and then through part of Kansas. And then we’ll ramble up back north towards the Rockies and our destination state.

On the drive back with just Janet and Jack as passengers, I hope to take another meandering, spacious skies route and visit Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, then veer off into a bit of Wisconsin and Minnesota before heading back to the fruited plains and final density of New England.

“Turn off the DVD player, kids! Look out the windows! Look at America the beautiful! We are so lucky to live here!” This is the land of the free and of the brave. This is the country that was and will always be worth fighting for, that young men and women have died and will continue dying for if they so choose to join our armed forces.

“Don’t be afraid,” I will also tell them. “That doesn’t mean your brother Blake will die, too, but if… If God forbid he did… it will be because freedom isn’t free, but it still merits defense whether it’s on our soil or another’s.”

My children already know from history lessons and from current events that not all wars make sense, that America’s involvement in battles isn’t always clear and evident. Yet I want them to understand also that a country that values liberty and justice for all is a precious place in which to live and that it is worth preserving. As corny as it may sound, I hope for them to be proud citizens.

If I can show them as much of their country as is physically and financially as possible, then maybe they’ll have a fuller picture. After driving through a dusty desert town without a national retailer or a fast-food chain in sight, maybe they’ll not take for granted the area in which they live. A big home in leafy New Canaan, filled with state-of-the-art electronic devices isn’t a right; it’s a privilege that must be appreciated.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We give these to our children at their birth and all we can anticipate is their understanding for and of the latter two.

The search for the source is priceless.

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