I hung our flag outside today. The older I get, the more memories it carries. My first was at age 10, when I became a ‘naturalized citizen.’ Since I was born in Australia, this was something that I needed to do if I wanted to be a ‘real’ American. I did. As I timidly walked inside the Phoenix courthouse, the flag flapped briskly outside.
My first question was, “Who is our current US President?”
“John F. Kennedy,” I answered confidently.
Then, they asked me to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart. My grandmother, perhaps worried that I might flunk, had also insisted that I memorize the Preamble to the US Constitution, “just in case.” While I can quote it to this day, they never asked.
10 years later, that same flag was draped over the coffins of all, those soldiers coming back from Vietnam. 10 years after that, our flag waved mightily over the 26 baseball stadiums as I sang, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Never have I felt the awe and humility of being an American as deeply as that summer. 20 years later, I watched our flag go up in flames in Kabul.
Real freedom has nothing to do with color or country, gender or age. It has little to do with a piece of cloth sewn with stars and stripes and everything to do with how we think. Since psychologists say that we are prisoners of our own thoughts, we need to choose them carefully. I believe that there are two kinds of freedom: ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to.’ If we have the first, we must use the second wisely.
Now my dog’s idea of freedom is to bolt from the leash and head straight into oncoming traffic. I have known many people just like her. They’ll take that inch so impulsively that they never make it a mile. So, on this July 4th, don’t take after my dog. Remember the words of a great man who understood what freedom really meant:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela