Yesterday, I came down off the mountain in an attempt to be productive. As I sat on the patio at Starbucks, three really fine men stopped to chat….. So it became unproductive real fast! 🙂 We chatted about life, the summer, and plans for this semester. Absolutely idyllic.
The first is a bi-racial black man whose single mother overcame more hardship than one woman should have to endure in order to keep him alive, move across the country, and support him as a missionary in South Africa shortly after apartheid was lifted. He is in his junior year at BYU and his testimony is a featured story in “Meet the Mormons.”
The second is the son of Hispanic immigrants from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. His mom worked as a taxi driver in New York City to put herself through school and his parents worked long hot days in the landscape industry in order to put their three kids into the best primary schools in Texas. He just accepted an offer as a software engineer at Pinterest after he graduates from BYU, with a significant signing bonus and relocation package.
The third is my cousin, the son of a farmer in the Columbia Basin. He and his brother will be the first college graduates in their family. His mother moved out to the middle of nowhere to support her husband who was cut off from the family through no fault of his own, worked long nights and years of drought to turn the desert of Eastern Washington into food on the table of every American. He just returned from a study abroad to Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand and is continuing his studies at BYU.
All of this transpired, of course, in a state founded by people seeking religious freedom– the same freedom the Pilgrims sought. But instead of finding a kindred spirit in America, the Mormon Pioneers found hostile mobs and corrupt politicians. They were tarred and feathered, humiliated, slaughtered, and forcibly driven from their homes onto the harsh plains and eventually settled in the deserts of then Mexico. Lives lost, bodies mangled, spirit all but broken these people made a life for themselves here isolated from the bigots who pursued them. However, when America asked for able-bodied men to fight for the same flag that kicked them out… They didn’t hesitate.
During this morning’s mediation, I was reminded that today is the 15 year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the thwarted attempt on the White House. I reflected on where I was and the prayer our student body spontaneously held after hearing the news. I reflected on my trip to Ground Zero in 2004 and the gaping wound left in the ground and the heart of America. I reflected on my return trip to Ground Zero in 2013 to see the memorial and the ground that is sanctified by the blood of those who died. The opening prayer of Sacrament Meeting today invoked a blessing on the families of the victims, asking God to afford them peace and knowledge of the appreciation all Americans have for their sacrifice. The orator went on to invoke a blessing on the first responders and military personnel who’ve volunteered their own life in the days and nights since the Towers fell in order to keep the remainder of us safe and free.
As I scrolled through Facebook, the American flag was a prominent theme. I find it particularly interesting that September 11th falls smack in the middle of a few high-profile protests of said flag. While I respect everyone’s First Amendment right to freedom of thought and expression, I would just like you to take a moment to reflect on something beyond yourself. How did you get here? What sacrifices have your immediate family members made on your behalf? What about your extended family? Even more to the point, what did your ancestors suffer, endure, and ultimately sacrifice to provide this opportunity to you? How many have died for you to be sitting in the most powerful, most free country in all the world?
Notice, “most perfect” was not a descriptor nor has it ever been. In fact, the phrase “a more perfect union” is the sole premise upon which this country was founded. That word “more” implies imperfections, failings, infirmities, inequalities, injustices… opportunities for improvement both small and great. We all inherently know we can do more, we can be more. So, now that you’ve redundantly pointed out the problem…. Why don’t you stand and present a solution?
The families of the three men mentioned above didn’t sit around and point out the terrible, unfair hand Fate dealt them. Instead, they saw in American a solution. The opportunity to work, to move, to plant. The flag represented the sacrifices of any and all who’ve come before them, to lay down their lives in order to build a country where change of station and situation is possible. The flag represents the hope for a brighter future. The flag represents the sacrifice required of you to make that dream a reality for yourself and those who are coming after. Make sure that when the next generation has cause to ask “Does that star-spangled banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?” the answer is a resounding YES!