Freedom Isn’t Free

I have been so touched this week reading people’s memories and accounts of 9/11 as we hit the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America. I was particularly stirred by this article about Todd Beamer, the father of two that was on the plane that was supposed to hit the Pentagon, killing many people working there. His story is courageous and inspiring. As we tell our children these incredible stories of courage it will help them see how strongly people feel about America and how important it is to do the right thing.

This week I had the privilege to hear one of our congressman from Utah speak for about 40 minutes. The theme of his talk was hope. Over and over he said “This is what I see. Over seventy percent of the bills brought to the House are passed. The news isn’t telling what we are doing right. You just see the Republicans and Democrats fighting. People working together doesn’t make for exciting news. People on the edge of both extremes say outrageous things and that is what the news is covering. ” I asked him after in the question and answer period what news sources we could find the truth from. He said The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily Beast, because it’s a little left and he wants to know what the Democrats are thinking, and The Wall Street Journal’s podcast, The Potomac Watch, because it veers right and he said this way he can navigate what the truth is and find some balance.

Last year in the tumultuous summer of 2020, we were having a Fourth of July celebration with family members. We started talking about the blessings of living in America and one person in the group said, “I hate America!” I was shocked and saddened. As I thought about it later, I realized that this person  had never lived outside of the United States  as an adult, and she was listening to all the  media outlets that keep blaring about what is wrong in America. If that’s all you were watching, America looked pretty bleak. Also, if you don’t read history or biographies of how other people have suffered under totalitarian regimes then you have no sense  of how remarkable  America’s system of government is or what freedoms we enjoy.

I recently finished a wonderful memoir called “A Mountain of Crumbs”. It is written by a Russian woman, Lena Gorokhova,  and she writes about many  poignant scenes from her childhood growing up in Leningrad (In 1989 it was  changed back to its original name, St. Petersburg), Russia after World War II.  As  Lena grows up, she is  fascinated by the English language, and learns enough to be part of a youth guides program. She and twenty-nine other students were privileged  to take foreign high school groups around the sights of Leningrad as a guide. Her supervisor said, “These are students from a capitalist  society, we will be the ones to represent our city and embody our superior way of life.” There are many rules these 16-year-old guides had to follow, and her supervisor admonishes them to also have clean hair. Lena’s family is only allowed to  bathe once a week so she wonders how she will manage that expectation of clean hair.  The first thing she notices is  how clean the British teenagers are. After taking them around the city on buses, the Russian guides take these Western teenagers to a special store only for Westerners to shop at. The windows have been covered so people passing by can’t see what is in them. Lena said if the Russians knew what was behind the covered windows they would storm the shop. Lena marvels at the goods that are offered–long rolls of salami she hasn’t seen since elementary school, and  something called “shrimp”, which she is unfamiliar with even though her city is a seaport.  Most painful of all for her  is seeing beloved classic literature that has been banned from the Russian people because it is not seen as acceptable to communist thought, displayed in beautifully bound books. She said standing so close to these beloved classics that her older sister had told her about was more painful than being denied the luxurious food and goods. What she wanted most was the truth and the freedoms these foreign teenagers carelessly exhibited. She was tired  of living in a place that pretended to be a mighty country. The poverty and dirt was  around them unrelentingly and she said  the Russian people  lived with the reality  of what communism was, everyday, no matter how “superior” her supervisor said their society was. Lena eventually  figured out  a way to leave Russia for America. Later, through more hard work she brought her mother and sister.

After reading this chapter I could only think of one word. Gratitude.  I thought of all the privileges Lena noticed that were extended to these British teenagers that I never think  about–as many hot showers as I would like, foreign travel, reading any book I want to, and eating salami and shrimp in large amounts if that’s what I wanted to eat.  What incredible freedoms we have! What amazing options we have been given!  Reading just this chapter at dinner with my teenagers back in the day, would have produced many questions and much discussion, and let them think and ponder over  what a privilege it is to live in America.

 These intimate times with our families to teach and tell the truth, are becoming the best things we can be doing for them. We are the ones to inlay in their hearts feelings of love for our country. We, as parents, are the ones to teach them the sacrifices people have made, and how miraculous it was that our Founders were able to draft the first constitution ever made to start a new country without a monarch. Rep. John Curtis said that there are now only six countries in the whole world without a constitution. That is remarkable! He finished his talk by saying we as citizens are the hope of America. Our decision to vote and get involved, will make all the difference for this great country.

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