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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Celebrating Freedom*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
July 4, 2010
as "Freedom, Our Greatest Strength"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Every July 4th, Americans pause to celebrate the day when our forebears declared to the world the intent to become our own nation. It is a day when we lay aside our bitter political divisions and find agreement in our mutual love of the United States of America

In a decade of service with the Navy, I visited some 22 foreign countries. I spent those times walking the back roads and barrios of far-flung places, talking to people and learning about their lives. Everywhere I went, I was always asked: “What is it like to live in America?” I tried very hard to be realistic. I talked about the problems that we face. I spoke of how expensive life is here. But I also talked about the opportunities that exist; how anyone with an idea, the desire to dream, and the willingness to work hard could succeed. The reaction was universally the same: “I dream of someday living in America.”

On a particularly brutal hot day on the dusty streets of Berbera, Somalia, an older man asked me about America. I told him my story, but he insisted that he still dreamed of some day going to America. He said, “Here in my country, I was born ordinary; I have lived ordinary; I will die ordinary. In America, all things are possible. In America, an ordinary man can become a great man. In America, I would never be ordinary.”

Comedian Yakov Smirnov, an émigré from the former Soviet Union, notes that half of the word “American” consists of two other words: “I Can.” It is this determination that marks us; it is this unbreakable faith in ourselves and our courage to risk that truly sets us apart.

We are the leaders in information technology because two guys named Jobs and Wozniak decided to build computers in their garages. We are the leaders in aviation because two bicycle shop owners looked up into the skies over Dayton, Ohio and asked, “Why not?” We are the unchallenged leaders in food production because of our brilliant hard-working farmers. Nobody tops us in the quality and quantity of manufactured goods because to our stalwart and principled blue-collar workforce, pride in craftsmanship is job number one. We enjoy the broadest freedoms and the greatest access to opportunity of any country that has ever existed on this planet, because in a nation of laws where government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, “We the People” will accept nothing less.

We are a nation of immigrants. Despite desperate flights from oppressive governments, failed economies, and fractured, polarized societies; despite long perilous journeys, people chose to come here. They dared to dream, because here, they knew their dreams could live.

Even today, there ARE opportunities in America! The truth is that opportunity does NOT come looking for you. If you want to achieve; if you have a dream to fulfill; if you have a goal to reach, you have to GO GET IT! That willingness to challenge ourselves marks our uniqueness as a people.

The American system guarantees the opportunity. Success is up to us. Our history is full of stories of people who started out with nothing and achieved greatness. These are the inspirations we should turn to when we feel our own will begin to sag. These are the examples we should point out to our children. It is that pioneering spirit; that never-say-die attitude; that absolute fearlessness in the face of challenge and adversity that truly makes us a great people. We are Americans! We do not surrender! We do not surrender to failure! We do not surrender to adversity! And we will NEVER surrender to fear!

These are difficult and perilous times, times that require from the citizens of this country great strength, commitment, and courage. We remember the prescient words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is far better to dare mighty things,
than to take rank with those timid spirits
who know neither victory nor defeat.”

America is not just a place. It is a set of ideas. It is a culture steeped in freedom and justice. It is a place where people of a thousand different heritages and backgrounds live peacefully with one another. And even on our worst days, it is still the place of dreams for the poor and oppressed throughout the world.

On this, the 234th birthday of the United States of America, let us take time to appreciate our freedoms and celebrate.

Today, let each one of us proclaim with pride, “I am an American!”
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