At church this morning I was jolted into remembering something. They had a spokesman from the Holy Land around Jerusalem speak a few words about the hand-carved Christian artifacts they were selling outside the church entrance. He mentioned that at one time, about 37% of the population in that area was Christian, but now that number is drastically down to 2%. In years past, I seem to recall that the city of Jerusalem was roughly made up of equal populations of Christians, Jews and Moslems, truly an open and holy place for all religions. He told us that although his home is just 8 miles from Jerusalem, he and other Christians must sneak into the city around a wall built to keep Christians out. Hearing this sad tale reminded me that the Pilgrims came to America seeking a place where they could practice their religion in peace. We take this freedom for granted now, but there are places in the world where it is still only a dream.
I was watching the news a few weeks ago (an exercise usually so depressing because of the local media's obsession with negative stories, that I need to fortify myself with a Jack Daniels Manhattan). Anyhow, they were covering a story in a country so desperately poor that the people had taken to baking cookies out of mud for the children to eat. In America, we have our share of poor people, but the wants of our worst poor cannot be compared to poverty in places like Africa. In America, the poor can always get something nutritious to eat, clothes on their backs, basic health care and shelter. They also have the opportunity, through education and hard work, to better their condition. The American people have tried to do the right thing in caring for those who need help. People will always complain that the government doesn't do enough, yet outsiders pour into America, some at the risk of their lives. In America, the poor take for granted a certain level of welfare, but should remember that it only exists through the compassion of their fellow Americans.
When you're in trouble, you call 9-1-1 and brave men and women put their lives at risk to help you. When we need their help, no amount of praise is too much, like the flood of empathy that poured over NYC firefighters and their families after the September 11, 2001 attack. Sometimes though, when we are secure in our homes because of them, we start thinking that they: a) Make too much money; or b) Don't work hard enough when there is no emergency or crisis to deal with. My son is a Lieutenant in the NYC Fire Department and we couldn't be prouder of him. He loves his job and feels a great responsibility for the safety of the firefighters working under him, and for the people of this city. If you're someone who takes firefighters and police officers for granted, just grab a hose or a baseball bat the next time you need their services instead of calling 9-1-1. If you're not prepared to do this, just be quiet and pay these people a decent wage.
The main reason we Americans can sleep peacefully in our beds, secure in the knowledge that we are safe from invasion by an enemy, is not the President, the Congress or the Generals in the Pentagon, it is our men and women in uniform. These brave souls are sent to far-away and dangerous places where our enemies hatch their violent plots, train their terrorist murderers and turn their children into human bombs. American military do what they can to democratize regions to which they are sent, hoping the people will see that Americans are kind occupiers, and come to like and respect us. Make no mistake though, our enemies do not refrain from attacking us because they respect our kindness and way of life, no, it is because they FEAR us. We should never take this for granted and let down our guard because America's enemies today are ruthless and probe continually for weakness. Only our might keeps them at bay. Say "Thank you for your service" to the next man or woman in uniform you come across.
Finally, and in some ways most sad, is when we take our loved ones for granted. How many times have you heard someone say at a funeral: "If only I could have told (insert loved one) how much they really meant to me." Why do we wait to let people know how much we love them? Maybe some people just can't say the words. There are other ways: be there for them when they are down; anticipate what they want, or perform small acts of kindness that will show them how you feel; and sometimes it's as simple as just letting them be right when you may have a different opinion. (I'm working on the last one.) The people in your life are more important than anything else that may come along. It's OK to forget this once in a while in the face of some life-altering event, but we shouldn't make a habit of it.