A grandfather's 4th of July prayer

Photo courtesy Smithsonian Magazine

Photo courtesy Smithsonian Magazine

By Jim Shull

I was born in Downey, Calif. in 1954, and have been both grandchild and grandparent while living here.    

I grew up on Bairnsdale, a wonderfully cramped little street, flanked by similar streets, each sharing Guatemala and Smallwood at their ends. About a dozen and a half small, but new, single-family homes peeked from between evenly spaced trees at the same number of similar structures just a few pogo-stick hops across the pavement. 

It was Southern California. We played outside all the time. Dads went to work from 8 to 5. Moms stayed home and took care of all of the kids in the neighborhood. As boys, we played “army” a lot during our spare time. We had toy guns and toy grenades and "killed" each other scores of times during summer campaigns spent fighting WWII all over again. We went shoeless every day, rode bikes, played ball in the street, and mowed lawns on Saturday. Girls jumped rope and played with dolls and jacks and helped their moms with household chores. 

If you were seen doing something wrong by an adult, it was that adult’s responsibility to report you to your parents. It was the parent’s charge to apply punishment to discourage further behavior along those lines.

Each household had but one car. Dad took it to work. The beach, and even the market, were well-planned trips. 

Adults ran the world. They had first names, but only other adults spoke them. Kids addressed their elders as Sir or as Ma’am, or as Mr. or as Mrs. followed by a last name. Children enjoyed this world, but nonetheless yearned to grow up and assume an adult’s privilege and responsibility. 

We pledged allegiance every day, together, as classmates and as Americans. We did so in clear and respectful English. We were reminded often of the flag, our forefathers, their sacrifices, and our responsibility on their behalf to contribute to our nation and thereby to posterity. 

Life was structured. People had roles. They understood the value of those roles to themselves, their families, their communities, and to their country. 

My reality in the summer of 1963 was that of a carefree but responsible 9-year-old, running barefoot through the streets and local schoolyards to play ball and army and laugh and skin knees and generally revel in life and youth. When the August air was too thick with L.A. smog to breathe, we’d go inside and wait for "Felix the Cat" on Channel 13…and maybe make a peanut butter sandwich while waiting. When we got tonsillitis, we would wait for Dad to get home to drive us to the doctor’s office for a penicillin shot and a sucker.

When summers got too hot, most of the families on the street would move chairs to the front yards in the evening, where we would share Cokes and popcorn and stories under the stars until an ocean breeze might wander our way, sometimes past midnight, to cool our homes through open doors and windows.

On most Saturdays, Vin Scully painted pictures for us through transistor radios perched atop ladders and front porch steps. We all knew the Dodgers. They were important. They were like neighbors. They weren’t millionaires…not even close…and most needed jobs in the off-season. And back then, many stayed Dodgers for years at a time. Yes, and Vinny told us all about them in poems that hung in the air as push mowers and edgers and brooms and dust pans cut and swept and chirped out the sounds of life as it was, as it was meant to be, on an August afternoon on a street named Bairnsdale. 

Things made sense in this world, a world that popped with a true hope and optimism forged from right and wrong, a world whose few limitations were marked by a respect for law as well as for one’s neighbor. This America felt as though it could only get better, although we had no idea what those words could possibly mean. Things were already ridiculously sublime…not perfect, but wonderfully imperfect…Not fair, but naturally and logically unfair. 

Life was a symphony of freedoms, where inalienable rights were appreciated and rarely wasted. Americans chose their way, pursued their futures, lived their lives. Being an American when I was nine meant being free to make both good and bad choices and to learn and thrive from those experiences and consequences…and then to move forward with the confidence that a mind and soul can only absorb through making such decisions for oneself.

Today, the left’s minions speak of a progressive utopia, a place never clearly defined, but often pitched as a “promised land” of societal bliss. Utopia is the political golden grail, the brass ring never clutched, the Brooklyn Bridge sold and resold ad nauseam.

But as I have attested, the world has seen a promised land. It was not the impossibly perfect society achieved on the island of Utopia described by Sir Thomas Moore’s fiction of the same name in 1516, but rather the highest leap ever made by mankind towards that noble pursuit. And the world clearly recognized it as such, as millions of freedom-starved souls crossed continents and oceans, facing hardship and death, so that they might join its enlightened masses. The world knew this uniquely magnetic marvel as America.

This was the America of my youth, the inspiring America that proved that government doesn’t dominate a successful and optimistic society. To the contrary, America illustrated both to itself and the world that government must remain limited so as to unleash the human spirit and thereby reap for society the benefits of the innovation that follows. This “real” success is quite simply characterized by and defined as that state of existence wherein most of the people are happy most of the time. When politicians boast of plans that may exceed that goal, see “Brooklyn Bridge” above.

The America of my childhood did not promise us things, but instead reminded us through teachers, parents, and elders that we were this nation’s promise. We were shown by example how to realize achievable things. When government allowed motivation to exist and thrive, Americans worked harder and with greater purpose and perseverance, all of which fostered an unshakable confidence in themselves and those about them, and an embracing of the framework of law that provided both reassurance and a sense of civility to their efforts. 

This real Utopia meant that industrious and sustained and motivated effort might be rewarded in such a manner as to perpetuate the vision of push mowers and transistor radios and close-knit families and neighborhoods and baseball and popcorn and carefree, barefooted childhoods yet unlived. 

This Utopia meant an atmosphere wherein citizens accepted their lot in life and its inherent and natural unfairness, and worked within a unifying framework of language, law, culture, freedom, values, and history to improve upon that lot…all the while taking care to not diminish the experience of fellow citizens engaged in that same American pursuit. 

Utopia meant personal sovereignty and the right to one’s own mind and property, a place where sweat, blood, and ingenuity daily turned dreams into reality. 

Our leaders (i.e. elders, teachers, and parents) taught and encouraged us constantly to live the concept of cooperative competition, a healthy system of proactive and reactionary energies expended upon the field of sport, within the walls of the classroom, and throughout the innumerable tiers and cubby holes of our immense and thriving business and community models. Success and failure were proud and necessary characteristics of a society steeped in the concept of effort and innovation and the testing of human determination. Cooperative competition honed our individual abilities, enhanced our daily experiences, and raised the level of achievement of a vast majority of Americans, giving birth and then rise to the much-heralded American middle class, the middle class that sired and sustained the solid moral values of a proud nation for decades to come.

Utopia meant a respect for law, and a voluntary embracing of the intent of the word of law. Common sense, not lawyers, ruled the day. 

Utopia certainly did not mean a world in which everyone saw life as fair. So America provided the setting (through the U.S. Constitution) wherein one was free to pursue any reasonable thing that one’s heart might desire…not achieve, but pursue. Lunches weren’t free. They were earned. 

With regard to race and ethnicity, the America of my youth preached voluntary assimilation by all peoples, a reasonable philosophy designed to promote a unification and commonality of purpose, rather than the societal fragmentation influenced by today’s destructive rhetoric. We noticed differences in each other. It wasn’t a crime then. We celebrated and encouraged similarities in each other. See “assimilation”. 

The progressives’ Utopia is one in which the state subjectively determines wherein wealth unjustly resides, and then confiscates said wealth to further enhance the state’s ability to fundamentally change America. 

And therein, the hideous crime against the vested American Citizen is twofold. First, his wealth is pillaged and given to those who will take more. Second, his rights are diminished along with those of the takers.

Jefferson knew this day of Constitutional entropy would someday appear. He was painfully aware of Man’s shortcomings, and so warned us of politicians who would come to realize that they could buy votes with the voters’ own money. A long line of political concubines from both so-called parties have so thoroughly sold-out the American people for so many decades that the soil has became ripe for the swift application of the coup de grace that we are witnessing today.

Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957. In it, American titans of industry band together to go on strike against an increasingly oppressive and progressive US Government. These Titans, these Atlases, had supported the world upon their shoulders…and for their trouble, had been demonized and looted by the very government and society who had  most benefited by their Herculean efforts and accomplishments. So, they ‘shrugged’ the world from their shoulders to allow the certain chaos that would ensue, so as to educate the world of the corruption of mind and soul that had come to increasingly pervade American government and society. They did so to accelerate the process of assured destruction that Progressivism would bring to America and its founding ideals. 

Today’s America is living to realize Ms. Rand’s amazing, but equally sad, clairvoyance. The insidiousness of progressivism in 21st century America, however, is not just a cancer on society’s major organs, but invades a much broader tissue list. This era’s aggressive disease attacks the marrow and tendons of our nation. 

No, today’s Atlas is not made up of the Industrial Titans of Ms. Rand’s visionary opus, but rather is composed of the network of thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs whose efforts provide millions of private sector jobs to American citizens…The very framework of ideals upon which the Founders’ America was conceived rests within the souls of these true followers of the American essence.

These real engines of American recovery are under ever-escalating attack by the left. And while our President and Congress vow aid and support to these vital resources, their actions quite simply contradict their words. 

After a century of persistent erosion through progressivism, freedom is dying in America. 

If there is any single characteristic of life that symbolizes the core of the meaning to our existence…to any human being’s existence….it is the concept of freedom…the freedom of an individual to succeed or fail based on his or her decisions…..period. The seeds of an America defined by freedom were first postulated, forged and expressed in 1776 through The Declaration of Independence and further consummated in 1791 by the creation and ratification of our United States Constitution. These inseparable twin statements of personal sovereignty defined as inalienable rights as granted through our Creator are the blueprints of this nation. Consequently, the debt we owe to the architects of our nation, The Founders, is inestimable. But if we tried to thank them, they would shun the credit and bid us to pay it forward.

They say that you can never go back. But certainly, one must go back to see what good
from the past should be salvaged and sustained for the present and future, just as inequities and questionable practices should likewise be discarded. Today, progressives hurry to erase America’s past, as well as it past culture. The past is a record by which to learn, and from which to launch society’s improvements. Erasing a culture is the first act in the wholesale replacement of same. There is sufficient evidence within the record of human history to confirm that which sadly lies ahead for America.

In the end, it is either freedom or tyranny that will ultimately unite a people. If a nation is headed away from one, it is certainly headed toward the other. As our Constitution withers from the erosion of corruption, America tragically departs the light of freedom for the creeping darkness of an inexorable and encroaching tyranny.

The American Declaration of Independence was a statement from a young America to an oppressive English King. But its wording was meant as well to be inhaled by each American Citizen…as an oath of remembrance that a free life is bestowed by a creator, not a government, and that the course that one’s life takes is simply the sum of individually and externally derived choices. The larger one source is, the smaller the other. Individual freedom, therefore, is in direct inverse proportion to the size of the government which under one resides. 

In closing, I have written a prayer. I would hope that it might be heard by the One who grants unalienable rights to us all. It is a prayer which expresses my deepest wish to pay forward as many of the blessings of which I have received to those yet to call themselves Americans. It is a Grandfather’s Prayer:

Oh Father, 
May my Grandchildren, May all of America’s Grandchildren, 
Run barefooted and carefree through an America which “chooses”
to remember and celebrate the 
Wisdom and Integrity of George Washington, 
The Resoluteness of John Galt,
and the Compassion of Your Son.

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