For those of us who write about politics and related subjects, we must, by necessity, immerse ourselves in current events. The evolution of our present political and social structures can be very discouraging to my crowd who are observing the sunset gaining proximity. We frequently capitulate to the human inclination of backward glances, believing better days are behind us. After all, we can remember when parties on both sides of the aisle accepted the idea of American exceptionalism with no thought of apologies being required.
Our parents’ generation volunteered, fought, bled and died to free others from the iron grip of fascism. The seeds of sacrifice they planted in our education would not tolerate socialism, communism or totalitarianism. People who were able but refused to work were labeled bums or similar names equally unflattering. It’s not as if they lacked compassion…World War II should provide all the evidence necessary to validate American kindness. Further reminders come when the disk is rewound recalling stories our parents and grandparents told us about the “Great Depression” when ordinary people extended helping hands to those in genuine need, but a willingness to labor corroborated character.
As kids we climbed trees, fences or even fireplugs to gain advantage at patriotic parades. The streets were not lined with hostile protestors but enthusiastic citizens who shared a common pride in country. Recent immigrants waved small flags vigorously, jubilant to be part of the American experience. These images are often accused of being nothing more than a Norman Rockwell fantasy, but those indictments are soundly rejected by one who can recall, even as an eleven year old boy, a lump in the throat and a flutter in the chest when Old Glory passed by. Much of the blame or credit for that (depending on political leanings) may lay at the feet of Mrs. Dunn who was a sixth grade teacher at Park View Elementary. As in other classrooms, the Stars and Stripes were proudly displayed in full anticipation of our pledge of allegiance, but in her educational chamber the colors seemed brighter, demanding full attention.
Mrs. Dunn was an exceptional teacher, skillfully communicating mathematics, science and English, but when she spoke of the Mayflower Compact, Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving, our attention was intensified. She taught us about the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia from September 5th through October 26th, 1774, and was appropriately opened with a Scripture reading from Psalm 35: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” With the reading concluded, the honorable members of Congress knelt with the presiding minister who then led the august assembly in prayer. If Mrs. Dunn ever received the memo about political correctness and separation of church and state, she ignored it with a firm conviction that imparted a noble and honest education.
When she rehearsed information about the “Great War” of the previous decade, I thought I could detect an occasional tear on her cheek. Americanism and patriotism were very real to Mrs. Dunn which in turn made them real to us. It was not the rudimentary subjects that caused me to cease counting the marbles in my pockets, but when she articulated the principles of freedom and liberty, I found myself moving closer to the edge of my seat!
Hundreds of parades, ballgames and rodeos later, the lump and flutter remain when the colors are displayed. One must wonder if a similar euphoria stirs the heart of those who embrace the “Green New Deal,” socialism, open borders, infanticide and a perpetual welfare state. Does their enthusiasm come from a soul gripping appreciation of our history, or is it just another pep rally?
The contrast between then and now exacerbates the temptation for us old timers to retreat to a cocoon of reflection, ignoring the approaching casket that houses former dreams and aspirations. Why do we continue to write, pray, rehearse history and fight for the country we love when we seem to be hopelessly outnumbered? Perhaps the best reason was summarized in a poem written by Will Allen Dromgoole years ago:
THE BRIDGE BUILDER
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
There followed after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”