Saturday, July 4, 2015

To true freedom

The fourth of July. The morning is still refreshingly cool, and I am enjoying it as I ponder and write. Later, the sun promises to scald us from a cloudless sky, and if our fireworks don’t start a grass fire here or there, perhaps the heat will. The birds, too, outside my window are pillaging their prey from the yellowed lawns around me. The sky is so bright, even at this hour, the cone of Mount St Helens is practically invisible across the Columbia Gorge.

On this day, and on at least one other, Columbus Day, there are many who self-righteously try to rob the country of any honor we can claim for our achievements in the New World, and dampen our spirits that are seeking some relief from our failures by celebrating our successes on these days. They remind us of the genocide of the ‘first nations’ and of the current, unhappy conditions under which some of them live, using history as their weapon.

There is not a single person alive at this moment who took part in the undeniable genocide. There is also nobody alive in these United States at this moment who would be here today, but for every action, benign or atrocious, committed by our ancestors. A large minority of our citizens have ancestors among both the ‘first nations’ and the ‘newcomers.’ There are very few ‘pure blooded’ members of the first nations left.

Assailing what is clearly indefensible, detractors never tire of spoiling the good of the people around them, and to no purpose. History cannot be reversed, only learned from. True reparation for all the crimes against humanity that humanity has inflicted on itself can never be paid out. What benefit do the survivors of the Holocaust receive in exchange for their relatives’ lives? They are perhaps a little richer than the Greeks and Armenians, that’s all.

We have made the country, and indirectly, most of the North American continent, and perhaps even the world, a better place to live than it would be, had we and our forbears never existed, in spite of our mistakes and, yes, even our crimes. The majority of us have benefited and, alas, the minority has been and still is, in some places, neglected. But neither we, nor any race, by our own inventions can establish perfect justice and righteousness. We can only try.

The past is irretrievable. The good and the evil deeds committed by our ancestors—yes, no one alive today did not have an ancestor in every generation since Adam and Eve—still affect us and the world, just as what we do, for better or for worse, affects our unborn descendants until the world’s end. There is only one option for us as there was for past generations—to do our best, to encourage each other to establish liberty, justice, and peace here and now.

The framers of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution that followed were imperfect men living in a savage and merciless age. Many owned slaves, perhaps some had taken part in wars against the first nations, but all were motivated by some ideal of good. They wanted for others what they wanted for themselves, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Were black and red men included? Unfortunately not, not much different than today.

But they did achieve something good, something so good that people all over the world still celebrate it, still desire it or something like it for their own countries. Will the lost world of the red Indian ever return? No, I’m afraid not. Nor will the lost world of my central European Jewish ancestors. Nor will the glory of ancient Rome, nor the brilliance of Athens and the reckless heroism of Sparta. ‘The world of the past is gone’ is no mere opinion, but a word spoken by the Lord Himself.

Everything good, everything beautiful, that ever was, is, or is yet to come, everything will be ended in time, either by gradual decay or by ruthless cataclysm, yet nothing and no one that we have truly loved will not be resurrected. The mercy that we could not manifest because of our weakness is still an unconditional reservoir from which all can draw, who want to, both now in part, and in the world to come, fully. That mercy is infinite, even if ours is not.

On this day, I salute all for the love of that Life which we all share, given us freely by the Creator. I salute all, the living and the dead, for their achievements and even for their failures, for they did not do nothing, but tried to better their world, as best they knew how. I salute all, my friends and my enemies, in spirit and in truth, asking their forgiveness just as I give it. And I commend mercy and respect for all, for these are the paths to true freedom.

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