Independence Day: The Pride And Sorrow

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On this day, of all days, our hearts are full; our hearts are broken. Our hearts are full, because we love this land so dearly. Our hearts are broken, to know the price so many have paid to safeguard those things we love.

Such a country, such a price: We stand with tears glistening, in joy and sorrow.

We are especially blessed here in Rim Country — in our neighbors, in the summer billows of clouds, in the sound of streams, in the view to the horizon, in the lessons of history, in the kindness of our friends.

The visionaries who risked everything by signing the Declaration of Independence 234 years ago gambled their lives on the radical notion that every human being has the right to freedom and that government is the servant, not the master, of the people.

That blind wager on the goodness and courage and energy of a free citizen, has seen us through all the years since. We have never been perfect — but have been irrepressible in seeking that more perfect union.

So a generation after the nation was convulsed by race riots and lynchings, a black man sits in the White House — subject to just as much criticism and second guessing as any other president.

So in just 40 years, the percentage of Americans with college degrees has risen from 10 percent to 28 percent.

The list would run on for pages: challenges surmounted, injustices confronted, sorrow transformed.

But, alas: We cannot simply fire up the barbecue and celebrate this year, for we have so many empty places at the table.

So far, 5,521 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The toll mounts almost every day, as the best and bravest among us pay liberty’s ultimate and most bitter price.

Lt. Col. Paul Bartz, 43, will not make it home for the 4th this year. He was killed when a suicide bomber set off a car full of explosives in Kabul. He was a linebacker on a championship high school football team, a pillar of his church, a support to his frail parents, beloved by his wife, and winner of half a dozen medals and commendations.

Sgt. Joshua Desforges will not be home for the fireworks. He died while “supporting combat operations” in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The tributes to him posted on the Web recall his last leave at Christmas, when he collected toys for kids, dressed in his Santa suit. Friends said he was a “born leader” and the “bravest person” they ever knew. They said he was “made of steel” and that he was “larger than life,” which he lived ever at “full throttle.”

We also set a place for Cpl. Kurt Shea, 21, who was shot in the head on patrol in Afghanistan. Kurt started drawing pictures of soldiers when he was 3 years old and “did what he had always wanted to do.” He had just finished preparations for his end-of-tour party when he was killed.

We long ago stopped memorizing the names of the dead, which newspapers used to print on the front page until the list grew long and our attention wavered.

But on this day, we must stop, listen, remember and pray.

We must not forget nor flinch nor turn away.

Some among us have given all that they have and all that they will ever have, for love of country and in the service of liberty.

For the rest of us, we have the easier task of raising our families, paying our taxes, voting our conscience, supporting our communities.

We must make those communities and this nation a place that justifies the sacrifice in order to pay our debts to the patriots whose gifts we have received, so that we may in our turn pass along those blessings intact.

And when we have finished our labors, we can turn to the weekend and the sound of our children and our loved ones gathered round. We can grill the burgers and chill the beers and make it down to the big fireworks show.

There, we will turn our faces to the light, our hearts brimming with joy and sorrow — recalling Joshua and Paul and Kurt — and so many others.

For they spread the blanket out across the green grass for us all, but could not tarry to watch the show.

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