A word not taken lightly

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 30, 2007

&uot;We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.&uot;

Will Rogers

I knew that my decision to challenge organized religion last week would be met with vehement opposition.

Most of the responses I received were from people offering me their sympathy for being so confused as well as their intentions to keep me and my daughter in their prayers.

Thank you to all who offered to pray for me, I can always use some extra prayer.

I struggled all week with how I would formulate the proper response to the multitude of opinions I received and then lo and behold the ebb and flow of the universe dictated that I end up in Sunbury Saturday morning, and I knew I had my response.

Well it wasn’t necessarily the ebb and flow of the universe that sent me to Sunbury Saturday afternoon, it was more like my editor sending me out on an assignment and suggesting that if I would like to continue getting paid then I should be sure to attend.

As the majority of America spent their Saturday afternoon enjoying the privileges of living in a country where individuals are free to not only have their own opinion but also free to share them with anyone who will listen without fear of lifelong imprisonment, several dozen individuals spent Saturday being acknowledged for ensuring that freedom.

Unfortunately, these individuals live a life of relative anonymity, simultaneously unable to enjoy the fruits of their eternal sacrifices.

I made the comment in the newsroom the other day that if I lived in North Korea, China or Iran I would most certainly be a political prisoner.

That is, if I lived in either of those countries and had the same compulsion to question the workings of my government and the status quo of society as a whole.

As it is, being born in the United States, I was taught early on of the efforts made by those who founded this nation to assure that no single ideology or any singularly opinionated group would ever monopolize the privilege of maintaining the status of our republic.

In a dimly lit room, barely the size of the living room of many American homes, men and women who sacrificed their own freedom of mobility, freedom of shopping, freedom of swimming, freedom of driving and pretty much their freedom of a normal life were allowed to take part in one of many events which occur nationwide to try to express our nation’s gratitude.

When I first arrived at VFW Post 7312 in Sunbury, you could hear the music and good times before you ever entered the building.

There were several men in their wheelchairs sitting outside of the building, doing nothing more than sitting.

I conversed with them for a little while, discussing things like how big my camera was and the weather, the entire time feeling uncomfortable because I had the option of leaving and going anywhere I wanted to go in the world unassisted and they did not.

It was difficult wondering how much of my interaction would be gauged by the men as genuine and how often they might believe I was merely patronizing them.

I am an honorably discharged veteran, but unlike these men, I had never seen combat when I was in the Army.

As an individual who stretches my constitutional right to free speech to its limit on many occasions, when face to face with people who literally sacrificed their own well being so that I could be Curly Morris, I could not help but feel unworthy.

It is incumbent upon us as American citizens to hold our government accountable at all times, that directive was mandated by the founding fathers.

When the men and women who established this republic formulated the concept of a free and independent nation, the cornerstone of that ideal was that each individual has inalienable rights given to them by their creator, whoever that individual feels their creator may be.

Our nation has a long track record of discord with nations who have exhibited an unwillingness to allow its citizens to live; vote and, yes, even worship freely.

The basis for much of the rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalists who are being painted worldwide as unforgiving terrorists is their supposed intolerance for varying religious and social ideals shared by this and other democratic nations.

Although I fully expected the backlash, I think that many of you would be surprised with the unwavering, polarized responses I received from some readers about last week’s column.

Some of the venomous rebuttals I received sounded eerily similar to the principles and ideals attributed to so called terrorists groups.

My greeting at Post 7312 Saturday was in stark contrast to the majority of the responses I received from the general public.

For the first time since I have been employed at the News Herald I found myself among fellow Americans who accepted me not for who as I was as an individual, but rather what my camera, my pen and my presence represented.

It is why so many Americans throughout history have found themselves confined to lives most of us would shudder to imagine, requiring assistance for tasks we take for granted on a daily basis.

Our nation is the poster child for dissention and the freedoms bestowed upon American citizens remain the primary lure of untold immigrants to our country every year.

More than any other event I’ve had the privilege of attending, Saturday’s event at Post 7312 inspired me and reminded me that there are men and women right now in a desert in Iraq, who disagree with me as much as many of you.

The difference between them and us is that they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

For as long as God allows them to walk and talk, whoever their God might be.