Through all its struggles, America has been a haven, much as a good home is, of sharing, caring, and grace. American courage, compassion and generosity have been overwhelming. America has always been about hope and fortitude. No matter how profound the tragedy, this country’s courage has been astounding. America has achieved greatness by accepting great challenges.
America tries to be many things to many people. No other country has been so successful at providing a home for such a diverse population. Most Americans relish the customs and traditions that immigrants bring. Assimilation is one of the things that makes America great. America’s courage and willingness to take risks is generally exemplified in its tolerance. America is struggling now to see how free it can truly be without destroying the whole. Never before that startling September 11th morning of 2001 had so many people mourned and shed tears for people they had never seen or known. We regarded each other with renewed appreciation, respect and love, for each lost life, then. . . and now. . . reminds us that each one of us is important for the survival of the whole, and to know our lives have value, that we are all accepted and appreciated, is to be in the best sense an American.
We know that America has not always been an innocent in world affairs and that slavery was our sin, and, though the fight continues, freedom and dignity will win out. Those who plotted and carried out the carnage of that September morning saw no value in the American way. They were and are wrong. America’s way is optimism and idealism. The American way is the creative process of building which is an act of faith and confidence in the future. Thousands of individuals were involved with the process of production and creativity when their lives were taken not only on 9-11, but on the battlefield. And today we are losing young, precious lives and the future they were working for. Those young faces were the promise of America, its future, a future we must not lose because, if we do, then all the advances will be lost, and the loss will not only be America’s but the world’s.
We cling to our country as we mourn the young lives that have been taken from us. America will not only survive but it will be better and stronger because American youth will look back on America’s story and will cling to it and fight for what it stands for. These young students will take us over the mountain to that safe harbor, home, America, where life and its blessings are honored.
We know that being human is a high-risk activity. We know the dark and the light, the good and bad, the pessimistic and optimistic sides of our nature. When the roof falls in, love can be mighty helpful. Today, let us feel the love around us. Love allows us to have hopeful hearts. But as William Butler Yeats reminds us, “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned. . . .” Leaders must earn our hearts and minds.
Is there a more appropriate time to be discussing leadership and the need for the kind of leadership that Abraham Lincoln practiced? Lincoln was the essence of leadership. He was straightforward with no gimmicks. As he said, “The time will never come in this country when the people won’t know exactly what sugar-coated means!” Lincoln’s intelligence was combined with courage and perseverance along with a passionate devotion to principle.
The question today is, do we have the courage to stand up and do what we know is right? Is there a revolt in the making?
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” What Lincoln wrote was a “how to do it” manual on leadership in crisis. Government has, Lincoln said, a responsibility “to do for the people what—they can not—do at all, or well, for themselves.” A President’s words must be fresh, exact, and true—he or she must fight power and privilege and special exceptions. This is the kind of leader America needs.
It is impossible not to think about all the children who have been lost, but we go on, we must, we owe it to them. These young must not have died in vain. We all wish for secret places. As children free of care, we explore the mysteries of life behind the couch or under a table. As adults we turn to home, a place without secrets, where life and its blessings are honored. Home is the foxhole, cocoon, where you can find comfort and good food. Home has always been a place of seclusion, a safe harbor for frets and outbursts. Home is the place where so many are desperately and heart-wrenchingly missed. When I think of home, my thoughts are wound around my mother. Mothers are havens of sharing, caring and grace. My mother died while planting flower seeds, an act of faith and confidence in the future. We lose our mothers and, sadly, our children. But may we not lose our country.
Protective thoughts and love of country spew forth because a great price has been paid through the years for being a great and wonderful country, whose people want to do the right thing.
In the conclusion of Elizabeth Maddox Robert’s “The Time of Man,” Nan asks, “Where are we a-goin, Mammy?” Mammy answers, “I don’t know, Somewheres… Some better place.” It is our children who give us the best chance of reaching that better place.