Photo: ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010. All rights reserved.
I will never forget my 8th grade Civics teacher Mrs. Herman. This woman instilled in me a strong love of Democracy and belief in our unalienable rights. Though some 39 years ago, I vividly remember the moment she stood at the front of the classroom looking old and wrinkled but every bit as wise. She read the Declaration of Independence with shaking hands and a voice mired with deep conviction. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” By the end of her speech, my eyes welled with tears and I felt a strange sense of pride to be an American. It was at that moment that I understood why our forefathers traveled from far off and diverse continents in search of a new life. This was the land of opportunity, the land of hope, the place where dreams could come true; even for a shy small-town country girl like me. Ours was a country where immigrants from many nations were welcomed with open arms to fulfill their destiny and to practice the religion of their choice under the protective veil of freedom. This was a country where those very freedoms, inked with passion by our founding fathers, were worth fighting for when threatened.
My 8th grade graduation left me with a new-found sense of hope and pride. I had been told by my iconic heroine, Mrs. Herman, that all things are possible in this great country and I was ensured the Constitutional right and the freedoms to pursue my dreams to be whatever it was I chose to be in this life.
Fast forward 39 years…Though Mrs. Herman’s words continue to impact my heart, I have become a tad bit disillusioned over time. My youthful enthusiasm, though not completely squandered, has suffered years of battering at the hands of individuals who choose to spew hateful dialogue targeted at those who do not fit into their own belief systems. Personally, I do not care what political party you affiliate with. If you are an American, you are free to make that choice on your own. It is also within your First Amendment Right to speak whatever is on your mind with the exception of spouting rhetoric that fringes on irreversible harm or causes slander. We are all entitled to live our lives as Americans the way we choose to live within the confines of laws that are in place to protect us from those who would do us harm. Each of us has the Constitutional right to follow whichever religion we decide to follow. We also have the right to choose no religion at all. Since it does no harm to me in any way, shape or form, I do not care who it is you decide to love. In fact, it is your right to make that choice. At the same time, I also have the right to love whomever I choose. My deepest hope is we are each blessed with love in our lifetime. Perhaps if there was a little more love to go around there would be far less room in this world for such blatant hatred.
Though jaded and weathered from time, I continue to have faith in the basic principles that this great country was founded upon. When I begin to feel disheartened, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and imagine Mrs. Herman as she paces in front of me. I hear the words of conviction flow from her mouth and I am embraced once again with visions of hope. The hope that every child in our country will be allowed to grow up to be whoever they choose to be, to practice a religion of their choice (or not) and to have the freedom to experience love with the person who they choose to love. This is the legacy of powerful words crafted centuries ago by the great minds who held our freedoms in their hands. Powerful words that continue to hold irrefutable and self-evident truths.