Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday America

In 1814, about a week after the city of Washington had been badly burned, British troops moved up to the primary port at Baltimore Harbor in Maryland. Frances Scott Key visited the British fleet in the Harbor on September 13th to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes who had been captured during the Washington raid. Both were detained on the Naval ship so as not to warn the Americans while the Royal Navy attempted to bombard Fort McHenry. At dawn on the 14th, Key noticed that the huge American flag was still waving and had not been removed in defeat. The sight inspired him to write a poem entitled Defense of Fort McHenry and later the poem was set to music that had been composed by a Mr. Smith. The song was immediately noted as an inspiring song that should be the national anthem of the United States of America. It was accepted as such by public demand for the next century, but became even more accepted as the national anthem during the World Series of Baseball in 1917 when it was sung in honor of the brave armed forces fighting in the Great War. The World Series performance so moved everyone in attendance that it was repeated afterward for every single game. Finally, on March 3, 1931, Congress proclaimed it as the national anthem, 116 years after it was first written by Francis Scott Key.

As I read the words, verse after verse, I can only imagine how Mr. Keys must have felt as he watched all these things unfold from the British ship where he'd been detained. One can feel the fear and worry for his country as well as the great pride and triumph as he notices the flag's strong presence by light of bombs throughout the long night, until finally morning comes to show the flag still stood and the battle had been won. Read for yourself, those words written so long ago.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'T is the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

It was July 4, 1776, when we claimed our independence from Britain and America, "land of the free and the home of the brave", was truly born. Each year on July 4, Americans celebrate that freedom and independence with barbecues, picnics, family gatherings, fireworks and more. We continue to fight for our freedom to this very day, even as we celebrate that which we enjoy so much.

As many of you may already know, my six year old daughter, Cassie, was killed in an accident just two months ago. It is through the same trust in God and determination, which Mr. Francis Scott Key wrote so eloquently, that I come out of seclusion to celebrate this country's independence. My sweetest July 4 memory (although there are so many), is sitting in a field on Ft. Knox, unexpectedly able to watch the fireworks show far from the crowd where we sat enjoying one another's company. Curled in my lap, my daughter (then aged four) and I shared this most precious moment in awe as a large group of new soldiers, basic trainees, broke into a sweet and haunting cadence at the very moment that our eyes were cast to the exploding sky. Their voices were filled with fear and hope, wise determination and youth, pride and joy. The summer breeze seemed to carry their verse over the entire base, causing a tear to the eye and goosebumps on our arms as they sang on and on. Later, we took a late dinner to the soldiers pulling guard (knowing full well that they'd been served a holiday meal several times already) and asked that they save the plates for us to pick up the next day (knowing full well the plates would disappear as always, but still taking the very best we had). We hung out with them awhile, talking with and amusing them as long as possible (but not so long as to get them into trouble) and on the way home she wondered aloud about the mystery of the disappearing plates until finally jokingly concluding that they were such big and hungry guys that they probably ate the plates all up as well. "I know! Dey eat um, mommy...like da Cookie Mosser!!" Insert noisy gobbling sound effects *here*, because she's just so danged cute like that.

Fast forward just a couple years. Life changes so much sometimes, sadly enough. This year I was unable to join the many soldiers in their festivities as I'd kindly refused the many heart-felt invitations this past weekend. I absolutely did not feel like traveling out of state or celebrating at all, period. I assure you, it was my loss because only service members truly know how to laugh and grab each moment as if it's their last, despite all manner of heartache and hardship.

Today, I woke and decided that this day would not, could not, pass me by unnoticed. So far, I've given a history lesson, two if you count this post only the first was way more fun in person and involving children (isn't everything involving children more fun?), sung a few versus to entertain (or torture, however you want to look at it), and am planning to gather with more family and friends later this evening. Tonight, I will go to the show with family and friends, remember better times and hope for more. I've already purchased the fireworks to put on a little show of my own (ok, I totally just sit back and watch overgrown child-men set themselves on fire, but still, that's fun too), so that those who had to work this evening and missed the show can still enjoy a show (and some leftovers, yum).
Yes, I'll have to stop by to visit my baby at a church where I never fathomed I'd be visiting her on this most beautiful night (even though I know she is not there but in Heaven). I still cannot seem to quite get my heart and mind around it all. But, I will take her the ribbons and balloons that always pleased her so much and try to think only of the day which I'll see her again (and yes, I believe with all that I am that I will see and hold her again). I will not be alone but with those who I still have to care for and care for me, I'm so thankful for this.

We will light the sparklers for her and pray she is watching us, knowing well just how loved and missed she is. I'll cherish and remember every single moment and memory made with this beautiful little girl to get through the night and many to come, and I will keep in mind that there are others in my life to create the special moments with as well. I'm totally going to cry, I know I will, but I'm determined to smile and laugh some too. If I've learned nothing else in the past two months, I've learned to make every moment count. I've always been particularly good at this throughout my lifetime, it is only now that I falter. This same ability I've had in the past which lends comfort now (having made every moment of those 6 yrs with Cassie really count)is the same which inspires me to try some more and value what I still have. Just being part of this great nation, enables us to not only provide a good life for those we love, but also enables us to enjoy the moments with them in freedom. So often it has been under the protection of our service members that we enjoy such a life. They sacrifice so much, often their very lives, to make this possible so let's remember them all on this most special day (if not every single day). :)

I've missed you all so much (no, I missed you more!), all the kind words and prayers are appreciated so much more than I'm able to express. Please know and remember this, whether I'm able to visit and post regularly yet or not.

Now, go out there and make today count. Have fun and laugh! (Or I'll have to HURT you!)

Happy Birthday America ;)

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