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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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Old Words, Old Parchment, New Hope*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
April 23, 2011
as "Founding Fathers' words still ring true"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

On a cold, gray day in Washington, DC, I stood in a line. I normally don’t do this voluntarily, an aversion acquired in countless trips to Disneyland.  But this line was different.  At the other end lay the opportunity to view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of rights; our nation’s foundational documents.  

The United States started out as a humble collection of settlements on the frontier of an unknown continent.  Over about a century and a half,  those stubbornly ornery bunch of raw colonials eventually threw off the heavy hand of King George III, and declared independence.

The decision to throw off the heavy hand of England was a courageous one.   Britain was then the most powerful nation on earth, its empire spread across almost every ocean and continent. For the erstwhile colonists to brazenly challenge that power was incredible enough. That they succeeded was miraculous.

Once inside, I ended up outside a huge rotunda.  Before me are two massive and ornate titanium gates. A guard appears, talking in a heavy accent, West African unless I miss my guess. There’s something very appropriate about that.   After a few brief instructions, we enter.

The lights are dim, the air is cool. Above me, the domed ceiling rises majestically.  I see two massive murals depicting the founding fathers. They flank two huge granite columns topped with eagles, at the base of which lie America’s most precious written documents.

I have to wait my turn, but standing at last before them, I am curiously moved.  Encased in everything-proof glass are the documents that launched our nation. To my right, stands a couple from Germany.  To my left, another couple from Russia. Both converse in hushed tones.  I don’ understand the languages, but I know awe and respect when I hear it. 

Looking closely, I see that the ink has faded. I wonder how long it will be before these words vanish completely. There are copies, yes.  But as long as the originals exist, people will feel inspired; connected in a personal way.

But despite heroic efforts, eventually, time will leave nothing but blank parchment.

I marvel at the writing. It is ornate, yet readable; lines ruler-straight and even, each word, each letter perfectly formed. In today’s world of word processing and laser printers, it’s hard to imagine that a mere human was responsible for such flawless artistry.

At the top, three words are written boldly; with obvious pride.

We the People

Even today, over two centuries later, these are the words that define our nation. 

I turn to the Declaration of Independence.  About eleven years older, the words have almost completely faded.  But memory supplies them…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

“Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.”

We, therefore…solemnly publish and declare,
 that these united colonies are…Free and Independent States.”

For the first time, America had spoken, clearly, loudly, and bravely.

Independence wouldn’t be easy. Ahead lay two destructive wars against Britain.  While soldiers were fighting in the fields, other men were struggling in congress, trying to define this new thing called the United States of America. It would take the Civil War to settle once and for all those last remaining questions.

Despite their age, the words ring just as loudly today as they did then. They are unique in human history, because no other nation has tried so hard to dissolve caste and class; to ensure that individual success was limited only by the will and effort of that individual. No government has ever willingly surrendered so much power to ordinary citizens.

Before turning away, my eyes are suddenly drawn to the document’s lower right quadrant. There, three words survive, the ink still bold and black: 

Free and independent

We are still a young nation, as history measures; and we have made our share of mistakes.  But no nation has ever been more committed to the highest of human ideals.  No nation has ever shed so much blood in defense of others; of liberty for all.

And in the eyes of the millions throughout the world who desire freedom and the fertile ground in which to plant their dreams, there is still no place on earth that shines as bright.

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