Wanting to catch the first light as it leapt over the mountain, I scurried outside in my pajamas and clicked my camera at Henry's flag. Henry is our neighbor. A sweet man in his eighties who knows everyone's name and says it when he takes their hand. All last summer, when returning from my morning run, I'd find Henry outside, raising his flag to the first rays of sunlight. He flies it every day, brings it down during inclement weather, and recently put up lights so it will stay lit through the night.
Henry was part of the United States Air Corps during WWII and was assigned to the Pacific Theatre. On a combat mission, Henry's plane was disabled, presenting him with a tough decision: land his plane in the ocean or land it on a small island we know as Iwo Jima, which was still under contest in a heated battle between Japan and the United States. Henry safely landed the plane on Iwo Jima and received the Flying Cross, a medal of highest honor for aviators. Henry is a true hero. A man who knows sacrifice and respect.
I watched Henry's flag snap in the breeze, sail its tattered trim like the flag of our fathers (and mothers) who fought for independence - the flag Francis Key wrote about on the back of a letter as he saw its colors still waving in the dawn's early light.
I also woke to check my phone, look for images.
A series of texts and photos from Doug lit up the screen. He had summited our nearest peak at 6:36 in the morning and was on his way down. He wanted to hike by himself so he took a headlamp to part the darkness, his phone so I wouldn't worry, and left at 4:30 AM with a hope to summit by sunrise.
He reached the boulder-strewn top in two hours. Here is his photo from the summit.
I looked up the mountain, wondered where he might be on the trail, watched the early light seep down the street, illuminate the grass in our front yard.
"What does it mean to be free?" Ali asked me last night, as she sat on her bed and I pulled the quilt up over her knees. A big question from small lips, but she's a wise one; observant, a listener.
I saw the spread of choices in her lap, the future that will be hers to create, the wealth of a life tucked into the pillows around her. I saw extravagance and excess (compared to so many countries around the world). We have too much.
I told her it's about being able to choose. "You can choose which church you want to go to. You can choose where you go to Kindergarten. You can choose what to wear each day, what to eat, what you want to be when you grow up. You can sleep at night knowing you are safe, that good men and women are working to protect our country, to make sure we stay free. It's about having choices, Ali. And hopefully, we make good choices," I said. "That's what it means to be free."
I kissed my girls' cheeks, then they asked for a song. So I sang them the national anthem. Rather heady to try to tackle, but that's what came to me. So in cracked tones, I sang my best, made a faulty attempt. Each word struck meaning into my heart, and I realized it was for me that I sang, not them. I had a hard time continuing past the phrase, "our flag was still there..."
Our freedom, my freedom, came at a great price. And I felt the weight of it last night. The responsibility to uphold it, preserve it. One choice at a time.
Victor Frankl said,
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth, and our freedom."
That space is precious. And it matters what we do with it.
Henry and Mabel, holding hands on their front porch. Love them both.
Heaven, martyrs and patriots (like Henry) be thanked that our flag still waves o'er the land of the free. And to all those displaced or suffering from the Colorado and Utah fires. We are praying for you.
Happy Birthday America,