The greatest threat to any country and its greatness lies not in the potential for violent attack, but in the gradual decline of individual character. With the anniversary of 9-11 approaching, let’s remember that you are the heart and soul of the nation, whatever nation you call your own.
This next September 11th will mark the 10th anniversary of the historic attacks on the United States. And inasmuch as this country (as well as most of the rest of the world) is experiencing some pretty tough times lately, I feel compelled to say some things about the land I love. But before I do, I want to share with you an experience that to this day has had a profound impact on me.
I didn’t have much of a patriotic spirit until several years ago when I began contemplating writing a book about the interdependence of freedom and character, and what I saw as the erosion of the best aspects of Western culture. While doing initial research for this work (which to date remains unfinished and unpublished), a melody began to play incessantly in my brain. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it truly haunted me, day in, day out. My intuition told me it was a patriotic piece, and the words “America, my home” needed to accompany certain notes. But other than that, I had no idea what to do about what would soon become an obsession.
I had never written a musical composition before, nor even seriously considered doing so. So, the fact that I was being hounded by this melody and feeling an unexplainable pressure to do something with it made me feel more than a bit crazy. One day, I confided my inner turmoil about both the stalled book project and the unrelenting tune in my brain to my brother, who challenged me: “Just what is it exactly that you think you have to say?” I replied that I believed that my country’s real greatness resided not so much in its military might or economic prowess, but in people of good character, who take seriously the principles upon which it was founded, honor its promise with their actions, and make the very survival of freedom possible. It was my fear, I continued, that the country would fall from greatness if the character decline I saw taking place continued. People would let greed, indifference, self-centeredness, attitudes of entitlement, behavioral license, irresponsibility, etc. erode the best things about us, and our most important character-fostering institutions would crumble. Even worse, I felt, in an attempt to legislate a minimum level of morality, laws would be passed that would both impinge upon our freedom and even further saddle those who were of good character, those who were already shouldering more than their fair share of the burden for making the country’s society work. This really scared me, and I wanted to inspire others to embrace the American dream in their hearts, to take its core principles seriously, and to honor its real promise with our actions — or, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so poignantly stated, “to live out the true meaning of its creed”. We’ve been blessed beyond measure, I asserted. We simply can’t take it all for granted. The price some have paid to keep the dream alive has been far too high. I want to touch people’s hearts and tell them we can save the dream, but we have to do it by converting one heart at a time. Good people will have to rally and those who’ve fallen away will need to be lured back into the fold. “Okay,” said my brother, “then say that!”
As anyone who’s ever composed before knows, narrowing your most ardent sentiments to a few choice words and putting them to music is a most daunting task. I am no poet. But my wife is, and a darn good one at that! So, with constant prodding on my part and with her artful help, lyrics for the song were finally completed. And after many months of trial and error with respect to the right instrumentation and arrangement, and after finding just the right voice for the lead vocal, the melody that had haunted me for seven years finally became the song I envisioned.
With the anniversary of 9-11 approaching, it’s important to remember not only the thousands who lost their lives that day, but also where the greatest threat to any country and its greatness really lies. So, I want to say to those who love their country — whatever country that might be — and the ideals it purports to represent: you are the heart and soul of the nation; you are what will make it work or cause it to crumble; and it’s up to you to keep the dream alive. In my own country, we have been both blessed and cursed with an unprecedented degree of freedom. So, the values we profess to cherish are our individual responsibility to preserve and uphold. For reasons too vast to fully enumerate, character really does matter, and how great we are as a people is completely dependent upon what kind of persons we are individually. And what’s made this whole grand experiment in freedom work has always been the day-to-day actions of conscientious folks. It’s the mom who graciously donates her time as scout leader. It’s the dad who coaches after work to help build character in the youngsters on the team. It’s the parents and children working together in 4 H. It’s the compassionate kindness of those who truly live the faith they profess in church on Sunday. It’s the enterprising young men and women who create businesses and value their people over pure profit. It’s the parents who care enough to instill sufficient character in their children that their school is free to concentrate on teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic. The greatness of a country lies within each individual heart.
As a helping professional, I’ve been more than a little disheartened by the character crisis plaguing our culture. I know that it’s responsible not just for so much of the psychological unhealthiness I’ve had to witness all too often, but also for the economic, political, and social ills that have beset us. Our fiscal woes are directly traceable to greed and unscrupulousness, reflected in Ponzi schemes, phony securities ratings, deceitful bookkeeping, etc. And what people will do and say these days to amass or keep political power, well that’s a whole other story! So, as the day for solemn remembering approaches, I urge all to bear in mind the terrible cost many have paid for the freedom we enjoy, and ask that we all challenge ourselves to be the kind of people who make the system work instead of the kind who take all they can get before the system collapses.
The first public performance of America, My Home! took place five months before the 2001 attacks. The day after the tragedy, a staff person at one of the regional TV network affiliates who had heard it and was touched by it, arranged for it to be paired with a video montage depicting the week’s historic events. The video then aired after every newscast for the rest of the week, which allowed people by the thousands to be exposed to it for the first time. It also prompted hundreds of requests for performance rights at local patriotic and civic events from singers all across the country. Recently, improved orchestration has been added to the montage, and the video has been posted on YouTube (two prior versions are also posted). So, if you are inclined to do so, I invite you to listen to this latest rendition of America, My Home! and open your heart to its message. I long ago realized that something much bigger than me is responsible for planting the seed in the first place and guiding its growth. I’ve also come to realize that much of what is troubling America right now is happening in almost all corners of the free world. Hopefully, hearing this tune might touch and inspire you to treasure freedom and reflect on what it takes to sustain it. We simply must be better than we have been of late. Each and every one of us. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. If we’re not, freedom will undoubtedly be lost and our grand experiment relegated to the ash heap of history. I don’t think I could bear it. I love my country way too much.