A Train, Peaches, A Passport, and More – Things That Remind Me of Freedom

A Train, Peaches, A Passport, and More – Things That Remind Me of Freedom

1982 (age 8)

Freedom.

Ka – thunk, ka-thunk, went the train

Escape.

Ka – thunk, ka-thunk, went the train

Wall.

Ka – thunk, ka-thunk, went the train

Guns.

Ka-shhhhhhh, went the train as we stopped again.

On the way home from a family trip to West Berlin, we had to make our way through East Germany. That trip included periodic checks to make sure that no one was escaping.

“How many more checks will there be, Daddy?” He shushed me saying that we were almost back in West Germany. There would be no checks in the West. An armed soldier came to the door. Dad handed him our passports. The guard looked at the symbols of America on the front and grunted as he checked each face to its passport picture.

Ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, the train began to move again, and my brain raced as I imagined an escape story – Someone could fit under this seat, couldn’t they? Maybe a girl my age. My passport would keep her safe, because the guard didn’t check our sleeping car.

Dear President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. I started to write a letter in my mind, they would listen to a little girl who had just experienced seeing something unjust, wouldn’t they?

What can I do? I thought as the train meandered on, taking me back to freedom.

***

November 1989 (age 15)

The wall fell!?!?

Hooray went the International celebrations.

“Hey, the Berlin wall fell!”

Listen, I tried to tell my classmates what it meant.

We were Freshman in High School and East Germany was a whole world away for them.

All I could see in my mind’s eye were the armed guards and the little girl I had imagined. I wondered how they were feeling – if they were some of those who were helping to break chunks out of the wall.

What can I do? I thought as I celebrated the burgeoning freedoms of being a teenager in the USA.

I thought of little girls all over the world unable to get an education. Walking 6 miles each way to carry water from an old spring only to turn around at night to do it again. Girls married off at my age. Girls working on farms. Girls getting shot at while they tried to learn to read.

Was there anything I could do to help tear down walls for them, or for my classmates so that they could see how blessed we were?

***

1996 (age 22)

“Do you know what this is?”

“Sure,” I said to the wrinkled man who was holding my passport. I was wondering if this Bulgarian man was going to give it back or make a run with it.

“Do you really know what this is?” I watched his worn and craggy hand as he flipped each page with a sacred awe. I thought of his whole life behind the communistic wall. He would have been young after WWII when the walls went up. To have tasted freedom and then have it taken away, I couldn’t imagine.

“I’m beginning to,” I said as we locked eyes and looked at each other.

“Live well,” he said as he gave it back to me.

The passport would give me a lifetime of the pursuit of happiness.

In Bulgaria I was shushed for talking about religion too loudly in a woman’s apartment.

“Be quiet!” she said with fear in her eyes, “they’ll hear you!”

We were in her own living space, and she was terrified. My passport gave me the ability to live without that fear.

In Bulgaria, I was choosing some peaches from a fruit stand. The owner began throwing bruised peaches in my bucket.

“Hey! What are you doing?” I asked, shocked at his actions.

“What are you doing?” he asked back.

“I’m choosing the peaches I want to buy.” Duh!

“You’re not allowed to choose!” He roared at me and continued to throw rotten fruit into my bucket.

 I poured the peaches back on his pile and handed him the bucket, “then I choose NOT to buy from you!”

Then I bought triple the number of peaches from the woman in the next stand because she said I could choose whichever I wanted.

The passport gave me the right to know that I could choose.

After a year and a half of living and working in a former Eastern European Country in the mid-nineties, my plane landed on the tarmac of JFK. The passengers erupted into spontaneous cheers, clapping, and laughter.

I had never been on an International flight before where we spontaneously broke into applause and cheering when we hit American soil. But, there was something about that plane ride. It was loaded with refugees from war-torn Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

I spent time on the flight trying to help translate for the refugees because the Bulgarian language and theirs were similar.

That was something I could do. And I found something else too.

***

1997 (age 23)

“Are you Wilhelm?” 

I turned to look.  A man walked up to me. He was tall and fit in a crisp, clean officer’s uniform.

“Yes?” I lamely muttered, while glancing at the lunch stains on my t-shirt, tugging at my cluttered ponytail, trying to smooth out the grooves in my hair.

I followed him into a beautiful oak paneled room, where he stood in front of me on a small dais, about a foot off of the ground flanked by the American flag on the left and the Utah state flag on the right.

 “Raise your right hand and repeat after me.  I, (insert your full name), do solemnly swear”

As I repeated, I thought of the little girls in East Germany who were not on the train.

“that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;”

I thought of the old gentleman holding my passport.

“that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”

I thought of the woman in her own apartment, with fear in her eyes. The peach sellers. The refugees.

There, in front of the flags and the officer, in a quiet, solemn ceremony, I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism I’d never felt before, a pride and gratitude that I felt both then and now to be a defender of my country. To help bring freedom to the little girls all over the world so that they could read and write and pursue happiness.

***

Modern day (age, er um … older)

What can I do? I think as I look around me.

How do I teach my children? I wonder as I see the immense privilege that we live and breathe daily.

How can I help them understand how free we truly are?  

I write. I teach. I speak. I serve. I donate. I pray.  I work to never forget that freedom is an ideal, a state of mind, a series of great privileges to live without fear, to live without walls, to choose. It has to be taught, and re-taught or it will be lost.

How can we help those around the world to create places of freedom in their nations as well? Can we help our own break out of walls of hate, anger, misunderstanding, and addictions that we create?

What can I do? I think as I drive through my beautiful country, thankful for those who have sacrificed to make us free.

What does a religious person think about Marriage?

Last time, I talked about accommodations and trying to live together in peace with our neighbors. This time, I need to discuss Doctrine. There are many who will disagree, and their voices and opinions can be heard on many blogs, posts, tweets, newspaper articles, etc. This specific article is to try to help those who are honestly looking to understand why a religious person wants to uphold traditional marriage (I’m an English teacher, I have to explain who my audience is 😉 ).

I had a conversation with a friend, we’ll call her Sue. We have a mutual friend, we’ll call him Bob, who identifies as homosexual.

“I can’t believe that you hate Bob!” Sue told me.

“I don’t hate Bob,” I countered.

“I can’t believe that you don’t want him to find happiness!” Sue said.

“I think that he is a wonderful person. I hope he gets whatever happiness he can find in life,” I said. (In fact, long after we had this conversation and well before I wrote this article, Bob asked me to be a referral for a job interview. I gave a glowing report because he has always been a hard worker and he got the job.)

“Then WHY don’t you want him to find love?” she asked.

“He can do whatever he wants and find love wherever he wants. But if you’re asking about what I believe marriage is, then that’s a different conversation.”

Then we had a long talk about what marriage is to a religious person (some of which I will recount here.)

Marriage is NOT something that religious people enter into for legal reasons. Laws of man allowing for taxes, healthcare, adoption, etc. were created LONG after marriage was established. Marriage was first established by God. It is His teaching, His law for morality. His definition of what marriage is. His law to bring children into this earth. He gave marriage as a blessing to His children Adam and Eve so that they could obey His commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (see Genesis 2:24, Genesis 1:28  and the revelation on family). You and I can debate and fight over a myriad of grays (of exceptions and accommodations) against such a black and white law, but unless you understand the LAW, it’s history and reason you will never understand why a religious person feels this way about marriage. It is not our law to change.

A religious person enters a marriage because they are entering a covenant relationship with God and their spouse. That means that God sanctions and blesses our relationship and we work to treat each other with love and respect. Anyone who has seen days of fighting and difficulties can understand why the Godly concepts of sacrifice, harmony, turning the other cheek, grace, and prayer are necessary to bring harmony to the home and stability for the children. I chose a spouse who agreed to bring those ideals into our marriage with me.

Laws that favor marriage have been something that civilizations have been creating for centuries in every culture around the globe. Those laws were not created because human beings didn’t want gay people to be married. The concept of “gay marriage” HAS NEVER previously been part of our society (note that I said that concept of gay marriage, not the concept of homosexuality).

We are in a very interesting time regarding marriage. Right now, in the United States the 6th district court upheld the state’s defense of marriage acts which means that as of this writing, gay marriage is legal in some states and not in others by district court law and very likely to go to the Supreme Court for ruling. My previous question of “which amendment is more important?” will come into play in the months and years ahead. I still feel strongly that it is my right to speak up in defense of laws that I believe are moral. It is my right to vote for people who will write, enact, and create laws that are moral. I will talk more about why moral laws are important to society in the coming days. It’s not as if others are going to suddenly going to stop pushing to enact laws that erode moral living in the name of freedom of choice. As they are pushing to force believers to act in ways contrary to their beliefs, I will talk and persuade and ask for laws that may have them act in a way contrary to their desires. It is our right as God-fearing citizens to speak up for Religion in the Common Square.

I am heartened by the fact that the Catholic Church has called for a colloquium on marriage this month. They have invited 14 faith traditions from 23 countries to come together, “Topics range from the beauty of the union between the man and the woman to the loss of confidence in marital permanence to the cultural and economic woes that follow upon the disappearance of marriage” (Vatican to Host Global Meeting, News Release —  3 November 2014).  We need to work together because the fights that are coming concern all of us. I invite all faithful to join together to pray for these religious leaders as they discuss ideas that will strengthen families and marriages.