My country ‘tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims pride
From every mountainside let freedom ring.
When I heard Aretha Franklin sing those words at the Presidential Inauguration it took me back to my childhood, and the memory of signing the National Anthem and saluting the flag every morning at the start of school. It was something we did as part of being American, part of being patriotic. We would all sing with a joy and a belief. I vividly remember the early 60’s and being mesmerized by a young Irish President from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. He was my hero of sorts. For some reason I could relate to him, I could relate to his story–being the captain of a sinking PT boat and not wavering from his appointed duties of staying with his ship. He was a hero, and I was into heroes. He was up there with the Apache Indian, Geronimo, who represented to me someone who fought against injustice and did it in a way that demonstrated that real men had courage to face death in the face of truth.
The ravages of the Vietnam War separated our country from that spirit and made saluting the flag and singing our national songs part and parcel to agreeing with the establishment. I would much rather listen to Ali then sing the National Anthem. I could feel and respect Ali, but I could no longer feel or respect my country. Things changed, and then along came Clinton, and he brought a renewal of my childhood back. But it is Obama who has really revitalized me. I can’t say I was on his bang wagon from the beginning, but there was something in the man that actually made me want to vote, something I hadn’t done since Clinton.
As I listened more to the song:
My native country, thee, land of the nobel free, they name I love. The word “love” just struck me as a word that carries so much power and purpose that we are taught from birth to run from it. Could it be that the word love or Luvv, as the way I prefer to spell it, is making a comeback? As a child of the 70’s, I heard a lot about “make love not war,” but I didn’t really learn about Luvv.
Since the beginning of my life I had a strong connection with faith, trust and hope. I was told that those feelings were religious based, but some part of me couldn’t fully accept that for myself. I could see my father demonstrate to the fullest his strong belief and fervent pursuit of God through his religion. I’ve always respected my father’s personal faith, even though I couldn’t accept his beliefs.
I remember being 11 years old and my father had a decision to make. His decision was should he follow his pastor to a new, majestic church in Jamaica Queens, New York. Or should he start his own church by staying in the Rockaways in a storefront on Beach 78th Street? As I look back now, it took great courage on his part to do what he did—he went for the storefront. He had a few members who stayed with him; Mother Bishop, Mother Jackson and Mother Griffin. At the same time, he was working a full time job at Rockaway Metal and coming home at night to build his pulpit.
I remember going with him at night to assist him. We would hammer nails, and I will never forget one particular night. I looked over at him and I could see and feel how tired he was. And I also saw something I had never seen in him. I could see doubt, fear and an internal questioning of his decision to stay and build his own church. I turned to my dad and spoke only as a child could speak said. “Daddy, don’t worry. One day you will have a bigger church.” I could see an immediate lift in his spirits and a renewed focus on hammering away at those nails. This moment wasn’t a religious moment, it was a spiritual one.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I myself could feel the struggle that every man and woman faces when pursuing a passionate idea. Watching the Inauguration today brought me back to that powerful exchange between my dad and me, the luvving embrace of each others’ way. I see President Obama reaching for and calling for that in all of us. It starts in our homes, and with our families.
The inauguration ceremonies represent a call to each one of us to deepen our connection to spirit and to embrace beyond creation. My country ‘tis of thee vibrated on many levels for me. It started with Kennedy who sparked an interest, and then King’s I Have A Dream speech was a very powerful moment for me. Then it was Malcolm-X and the Panthers that intrigued me in my early teen years. People seemed afraid of Malcolm and the Panthers, very similar to how the U.S. Army was afraid of Geronimo. While King was the Father of the Civil Rights Movement, there are others that aren’t as palatable to discuss, like Clever, Seale, and Malcolm. They too had luvv in their hearts for the country they wanted America to be. America, boy, how I prefer that word over the United States, yet I must admit that Obama has brought a renewed resonance to the term the United States.
I spent Tuesday, Inauguration Day, watching everything I could see on the inauguration. At the end of the night, my wife asked me what did I think about all of what I saw? I couldn’t put my feelings into words then, but hours later, now I can. I was feeling a great deal of hope and also a great sense of loss. The hope I felt was for today and the days ahead. The loss I was feeling was for the years that I wasted being distracted by the vagrancies of not listening to conscience and therefore denying my destiny.
I thought about what discipline it took for every member of Barack and Michelle’s families to listen and follow the conscience to assist them to get to this point. Then for Michelle and Barack themselves, if either one of them had wavered or gotten distracted long enough to miss the doors of opportunity, this day might not had happened. It was a sobering awareness on my part of my own life and destiny. The good news is that I still have time to listen to conscience and tap more deeply into my destiny.
President Obama talks about what is ahead for us. I am not sure what is truly ahead for us, but I do know that following the conscience and producing gigantic levels of luvv are a part of any direction that we or I, as Americans, must take.
Following conscience is required in order to “navigate the icy waters” that President Obama spoke about in his inaugural speech.
Symbolically, ice is a symbol of luvv. Think about it, when your body is hot you want something cold, when you have a fever you want to cool off. I don’t think that the fact that over 2 million people from around the world braved the icy weather to be present at this event of America’s destiny.
The Gala parties have ended and it’s now time to get to WORK: finding the Wealth, Order, Relaxation and Knowing to begin the journey toward our collective and individual JOBS, our Joy Of Being. If we really go to W.O.R.K and do our J.O.B, we just might bring through that change that we all say we want.
America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)
1. My country ‘tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims’ pride,
from every mountainside let freedom ring!
2. My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.
3. Let music swell the breeze,
and ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song;
let mortal tongues awake;
let all that breathe partake;
let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.
4. Our fathers’ God, to thee,
author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright
with freedom’s holy light;
protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
By Samuel Francis Smith