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My Country

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Carol Bossard

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The song, “This Is My Country”* has two verses.  Vs. 1 begins: “This is my country, land of my birth; this is my country, grandest on earth..”  And Vs. 2 is:“This is my country, land of my choice; this is my country, hear my proud voice.”  The lyrics are inclusive.  If we are grandest on earth it is because of the mixture of cultures, experiences and traditions.  We are far less grand, and heading toward abysmal, when we insist on being insular, hostile and selfish about who matters in this country.  Laughing, sharing meals, listening and finding common ground should be our good goal for a great country.  

 In my personal countryside, the garden heliotrope is dropping its tiny petals after blooming for about three weeks.  This plant grows wild along the roadsides over toward Wayne and Hammondsport, but I’ve had trouble making it happy here.  Finally, however, my plants are over three feet tall and covered with fragrant heads of tiny little lavender/white flowers.  I’ve always wondered how something with such an attractive scent in flower, can have such a revolting odor in its roots.  

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Garden heliotrope^ is the valerian often recommended to help one relax and gently sleep.  I once bought some of the roots, thinking to make tea, and they made my car smell so bad (rather like dirty teenage socks!), only from Trumansburg to Spencer that I ended up tossing them.  I do take the capsules occasionally, but always accompanied by a tasty juice; never with just water.

 
We are one day past our nation’s birthday, which brought to mind the song with which I began.  I expect that many celebrated with parades, BBQs or family parties.   I love fireworks and so, apparently, did our forefathers; lighting up the sky on special occasions seems to be a tradition nearly as old as our nation.  Here in our valley, fireworks echoing off the hills remind me of the Catskill’s Rip Van Winkle bowling with the little men.   The booming, echoing noise of fireworks is not universally admired though; I remember having to hold a small granddaughter on my lap while she held her hands over her ears.  People with PTSD may also have a major problem with what resembles battle-field sounds.  And before Freckles became hard of hearing, he didn’t like it much either; it jarred his nervous system.  We should be aware.


In high school, our band marched in a parade or two, though we were actually a concert band.   I’m sure that I felt all patriotic as we played “Stars and Stripes Forever” or “El Capitan.”  But I’m also sure that I didn’t really think about why.   Enduring the blue wooly uniforms in the heat and keeping my white sneaker-clad feet in step while carrying the bell lyre or playing the piccolo, was a more immediate concern.   Now, at my current advanced age ☺ and in these times, this annual commemoration makes me ponder.  There are so many wonderful things about this country that are found nowhere else, but we’ve made and continue to make some grievous errors in judgment and policy over the years (according to me, of course).  And I can’t help but wonder what George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson would think of our journey and our current reality?  I imagine they would approve of some things, stand in amazement at a few and find others appalling --- and not always as we might think they would.  They were politicians, but they weren’t career politicians.  They accepted a responsibility for the time necessary, and then returned to their regular lives.  I think that probably makes a huge difference!

 

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George Washington spoke with some warning: “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.  Every man will speak as he thinks…………… or without thinking……..and consequently will judge of effects without attending to their causes.”  And “Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.”   So the absence of thoughtfulness and presence of abuses of our freedom apparently remain the same regardless of passing generations.


And from Thomas Jefferson: “The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they have gotten hold of us.  It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.”  And “When a man {or woman} assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.”  

 
Since all of these things: corruption, desire for power, inability to think things through and licentiousness continue to abound, it appears we don’t learn much from history, even recent history.  Those quoted gentlemen had flaws, as do we all, but they took their values seriously and tried to explain that we all have a responsibility to protect the liberties, integrity and principles on which our constitution was actually based (the spirit of what was written) and not try to make what it says fit our own wishes, desires and comfort level.    Loop holes are ---- not always, but often ---- the bane of justice.  Shrugging our shoulders, yawning in apathy and thinking that our own experiences are (or even should be) universal will hasten destruction of the life that we value.  Ben Franklin, of the same era, said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”   And here is a verse from a poem by Jessamyn West**: 


                                                          “Freedom is a hard-bought thing – 
                                                            A gift no man can give,
                                                           For some a way of dying,
                                                           For most a way to live………”


I think this means we should live in awareness and gratitude but be ready to stand firm when civil rights --- for anyone at all --- are threatened.   


Sometimes we forget how precious are the small things of daily life and we assume that liberty is a given.  Most of us, simply because we were born in this country, have been sheltered from many hard issues of life ---- issues that we, living in relative comfort, cannot even comprehend.  As a result, we come to feel entitled and blithely take some of the most important things in our lives for granted; the love and security of family, our personal safety, the many retail choices, the sun coming up in the morning, the aroma of grass being mowed, the simplicity of a child’s affection and trust, space for gardens, no bombs dropping or mine fields to fear, food in our refrigerators and pantries.  We can put those very precious things at risk by living in apathy or ignorance.  And from my spiritual point of view, we fail in our purpose here on earth if we neglect to address hunger, loneliness, injustice, hate-mongering and evil simply because we are, as yet, personally untouched by them.  

 
So, while the actual 4th of July holiday is over, perhaps we could allocate a day or two more to consider:  What makes this my country?   How can I usefully support a nation that was formed on values of freedom (as they saw it at the time), caring for those in need and encouraging opportunity for each of us?   How do we correct sociological mistakes from the past?  I don’t necessarily mean in a political way, although that is one responsibility to contemplate.  I mean in an individual way.  What can I ---- you ---- anyone ---do by our lifestyles, our conversations, our volunteering, to make our little corners and maybe other corners too, places where good things thrive?   What is it that we want to nourish and preserve?  Be aware that I’m not suggesting that each of us try to improve the entire world by ourselves and in our lifetime.   I am learning that one should do only what it is possible to do without unhealthy stress or neglecting other important arenas of our lives.  What we feel led to do with the gifts within us, should come from the heart after serious contemplation.  However we choose to live, each of us has an impact on our entire fragile world.


Right now we are personally rejoicing because our granddaughters are coming to visit.  That’s a very precious gift and we appreciate being able to enjoy their company for a few days.   Perhaps there will be a campfire with toasted marshmallows; hopefully there will be fire flies; definitely there will be music and stories.  And we are glad that we have the freedom “to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day……..watching the clouds float across the sky.”*** Even while my country may be having a difficult summer ---- I can still be grateful for my personal countryside and all that is therein.


*”This is My Country” written in 1940.  Lyrics by Don Raye and Music by Al Jacobs
**Jessamyn West ----American author, notably wrote “Friendly Persuasion”.  19902-1984
***John Lubbock ---- British banker, politician, scientist, philanthropist.  1834-1913
# --- Garden heliotrope (Valerian) is NOT the annual deep purple heliotrope that nurseries sell in the spring.  It is a tall perennial of a different family.

  

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