Quarantine Life

Quarantine Life

This post has spent 10 months, and counting, as a draft. The first draft was a little giddy, a little overwhelmed, and a little OCD. My mind was occupied with questions like: holy moly how are we going to keep up with work and adult-ing while also keeping the kids occupied and content? Yikes, I just touched my face. I should go wash my hands. And my face. And rinse out my mouth with mouthwash. Do I need to wipe down my keyboard? Yup; better safe than sorry. How do my children, who spend all day in pjs, still manage to generate so much laundry? Oh, and the toilet paper! Seriously? And why toilet paper? What is wrong with people? Also, wouldn’t this be the perfect time for America to be introduced to the bidet?

I also had an optimism that in retrospect makes me feel nostalgic. This is a forced pause on life, I thought, and so it is a wonderful chance to still our minds and really, deeply take stock of life. How are we doing? What are we doing? Am I doing what I want to be doing? Living according to the values I espouse? What can we learn from this forced freeze of life and the busy-ness that seems to follow us every day?

But as the weeks rolled past, and the finish line kept moving back, I started observing other things. How, for example, people were reacting so differently to this thing. There were those mourning the loss of social gatherings and even daily interactions with work colleagues, or for the kids, their classmates. And then there were those who just said, “I’ve got my drink of choice and a pile of books. See ya. Someone come get me when this is all over.” I saw it even in my kids. Same genes, same household, and such different personalities: the introvert who would go hole up at every opportunity, the structure-craving child who started (and still starts) every day with, “what’s on the schedule for today?” And the laid back child who wanted something to do and didn’t really care what it is as long as someone else was doing it too.

I’ve also noticed how this increased time at home together was making our family grow closer, as we’ve spent more hours this past year than ever before playing games, watching movies, taking hikes, or working on puzzles together. Then at moments I’d think, did I really think my kids were growing closer? Then why did one just perform a maneuver that I’m pretty sure was designed to break the other’s leg? Console one, scold the other. And breathe, mama. 

Then of course, as if the pandemic wasn’t enough, racial injustice, as old as America itself, came into Americans’ frame of focus in the form of police brutality. Important, necessary conversations started happening. People showing up in huge numbers across the country forced us as a society to begin a new chapter in the work of reckoning with this ugly legacy. It is work that will not and cannot be marked “done” with a simple reading of a certain book or watching of a recommended movie. There is much more to say on this, and much of it is being said. (I’d love to add my voice to the discussion in a longer reflection, but that is a post for another day.)

When change happens sometimes, it happens in leaps. Inequities in the effects of this pandemic on different segments of society, layered with racial injustice, have laid the groundwork for just such a leap. And I’m praying every day that we land in a better place than we are now. It’s up to us to make sure we do.

Add one more layer on: the jeopardy of our democracy. Guardrails have been and are being tested in a way that haven’t been seen in my lifetime anyway. On the one hand, any half-way informed or engaged citizen is learning more than they ever did about how our elections work, about why evidence is important to proving something, and about the difference between having an opinion, and believing that opinion is fact, then acting on it in ways that are harmful. That engagement and awareness are a silver lining to all this. On the other hand, an alarmingly high number of people believe, as fact, allegations about our elections, courts, etc. that are simply not true. And they don’t know how to, or don’t think to, research those allegations enough. Or they don’t want to, because they want to believe what they believe. So where do we go from here?

Perhaps it is the irony of these days that is so disorienting. In civic life, we are having important conversations and sharing earth-shifting ideas. Ideas of how to achieve equality, and what level of equality is justified. Ideas of where to find common ground. Ideas of how to heal our damaged and polarized country. (I’d love, again, to explore these ideas more in a future blog post.) Exploring these ideas and the arguments being made takes time and energy, and I am encouraged to see new people taking the time, spending the energy.

And yet, in our private lives, or at least my private life, it’s a lot like a very bland Groundhog Day. There’s a daily routine. Morning: get dressed in comfortable clothes if I don’t have to physically go into work (never mind that these clothes are a decade old), with not a lick of makeup or attention to my ever wilder hair. (And on days I do have to go to work, “normal” clothes are shed in favor of my unfashionable loungewear within 15 minutes of being home.) In the evening: reverse. Back into pjs, preferably, but not always, after walking the dog. Put couch cushions and throw blankets that have migrated onto the floor back in place. Clean the kitchen. Repeat the next day, and on.

Here’s what is not repetitive. The daily decision of how I will think, and how I will act. Doom-scrolling is real. There have been days and weeks over the past year where it literally felt like something historic was happening every hour. It’s been hard not to check for news updates compulsively. But I do have a choice, and I could choose to pay attention to something else, something also worthwhile and over which I actually have control, for a while. After all, the world does not need me personally to be updated on every event the moment it happens. Some days, I’ve failed miserably at that. Like I said: doom-scrolling.

But what I’m becoming more and more convinced of is that while we cannot individually change the world, our individual acts can improve another individual’s world. And in this way, small kindnesses and acts of optimism in the aggregate do change the world. I did not, of course, come up with this idea (Mother Theresa, for one, said it in many ways). But I have found it to be especially important in these times, when the opportunities have been so abundant for individuals to show the best, and the ugliest, sides of humanity.

Every day offers a new opportunity to choose faith, and hope, and love, over worry and fear. We may fail some days, but the important thing is to get up and try again. It’s just like in the before times, when we were striving for so many things (training for a race or ride, or getting that next belt in Tae Kwon Do, or learning to play that new piano piece perfectly). We’d fail and we’d try again. Our striving these days, should we choose to accept the challenge, is more internal. It takes practice, and trying again after failure, to choose to love, to choose to have faith.

For my family, I’m not sure how we’re going to reacquire “normal” life once COVID-19 isn’t hanging over our days. I don’t think we will go back to that life. I don’t think we’ll want to. And I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing. 





You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in a little while. I am in a season of life, faithful readers, where my writing time is very limited, and so I am devoting what time I have to finishing my book.

If I do find opportunities to post here, I will. If you want to be alerted to future posts, please make sure you’ve subscribed to the blog.

Until then, wish me words and insight as I try to give this book the best I have!

Childhood Snatched

I watch my daughters jump the waves, their skin turning a deeper and deeper bronze with each hour. The energy they have. The pure, unadulterated joy of the moment, the largest waves eliciting screams of delight.

I’ve warned them about rip tides. Explained the importance of staying close together, not venturing out too deep. They heed me, but it doesn’t stop them from reveling in the joy of the moment.

They’re brave little ones, these children of mine. Like many–most?–kids who’ve lived in relative safety.

On my mind since it happened has been another child, not much older than my oldest daughter. A child who by all appearances had an otherwise normal childhood. Until one day, two classmates walked into his classroom with guns, and this child did what he’d been trained to do. He ran at them, likely saving his classmates in the act.

But this child? He’s dead. Snatched from his friends, his family, his innocence, his future. His parents are living all parents’ worst nightmare. They live while he has gone.

Social media called him a hero, a child who gave up his life for the other children. His picture was plastered all over my social media for a day or two. He was indeed a hero.

But is that any comfort to his parents? More to the point, why did he have to be?

Heroes protect their comrades and nation’s values in wars. Heroes save other in natural and man-made disasters. Heroes make a knowing choice to risk their safety for others’ sakes.

But what kind of country are we becoming when we plan for our children to have to lay down their lives for their classmates? We train them for it. When did this ultimate sacrifice become the price of participation in school? Or for that matter, at concerts and other public places?

When something–a behavior, a thing–proves to be dangerous, we pass laws to mitigate the risk. Car crashes can be deadly, hence driving tests and age limits and safety belts and speed limits and rules for right of way. It doesn’t mean crashes don’t happen, but it means they are fewer, and less fatal when they do happen. Ditto for drinking alcohol. Or drugs. Even fireworks. Or going through airport security, and being forbidden to do certain things on, or bring certain things onto, an airplane. We accept these rules because they keep us safer.

There was a time, in the wild west, when danger lurked in each new encounter, and law enforcement was nonexistent or unreliable. People had to be extremely self-sufficient when it came to their own and their loved ones’ safety. But we are not in the lawless west and this is not the 1800s. So why do we continue to insist on believing that we do?

One day, I believe, we will have the collective moral spine to vote into office people who will pass laws to make our children–and all of us–safer from those who shouldn’t have weapons, but can and do. Until then, we can only pray that our children, our live-in-the-moment, joy-knowing, innocent, brave children, will live to see their next school vacation and play in the ocean again.

Themes Turning

Themes Turning

Totally by coincidence, and months ago now, I found myself reading two books in parallel. The topics are different. The genres are different. The style of writing is different. The books are set on different continents. The authors are not even contemporaries. Yet the themes could not be a closer echo of each other.

The books are Souls of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Dubois, and Trinity, by Leon Uris.

Neither book is modern, which makes the language outdated. In their lack of buzz words and modern code, their voices become fresh again to a contemporary reader.

The main parallel I saw was in the authors’ treatment of poverty. In their own unique ways, the authors question the assumption (as prevalent then as it is now) that the poor are deserving of their suffering because they are lazy, dirty, dumb, name your flaw. They are somehow less than.

You may need to read that again. The poor are lesser humans, and therefore deserve their situation. Is this true? Whether we think we believe it or not, how many of us behave as if it is? And how do we know? I will not presume to answer this for you.

This is, on another note, Holy Week for Orthodox Christians. The readings and litanies of this week invoke a sense of deep introspection. Repentance, gratitude, compassion, a sense of our own wretchedness. A sense of being intimately known and intimately loved. All the reference points from which we have ever stood come together in this one week for an incredibly powerful spiritual reckoning–if we put in the time and effort to partake, of course.

So I had all this on my mind during today’s service. And as often happens, the readings  were read as if they were responding to my thoughts. First, a Psalm, and then, a Gospel passage, well known, from Matthew 25. (Psalms 41: 1-2 and Matthew 25: 31-46, if you’d like to look them up for yourselves.) Here was a message about considering–thinking about–the poor, so that God will come to our aid in our [inevitable] time of trouble. And then, in Matthew, Christ teaches that when we help others (the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the homeless), it is as if we are helping Christ Himself.

God, the Creator of the Universe, is likening himself to those poor, those lesser-thans. He is encouraging us to help them. Which means we have to connect with them. Which means moving out of our comfortable circles to do the inconvenient, the uncomfortable thing for those whom it doesn’t apparently benefit us to help.

Here is my wider point. Meditating on our own spiritual/ emotional state, moving outside what is known and comfortable to connect with others, these are all (among other things) the very things that give life its meaning and its richness, I believe.

I ask you then to ask yourself, as I do myself, in what ways we can stay spiritually connected; past this week for observers of the Orthodox calendar, or past another time of spiritual awakening for others. What can we do to deepen our connection with the Creator of this world, and, in so doing, remind ourselves and others of Who that Creator is?



Who Still Talks of Idols?

Who Still Talks of Idols?

What is the one thing that occupies your thoughts? The one thing that you devote mental space and effort to each day? If you can’t name the top one, how about the top two or three?

What are we pre-occupied with? Our highest teachers have told us what the answers should be: spiritual growth (particularly for those of us who practice faith), showing kindness to our fellow man, or serving in our community, raising children well, or any other multitude of principles that benefit us or those around us in a long-term, meaningful way.

Those might be the answers we “should” give.

But the images and mantras most of us encounter on a daily basis inundate us with answers of their own. These messages pair two disparate things together–so persistently and so forcefully–that people have come to accept them, many times without even noticing. Fitness (apparently a sign of self-discipline and other virtues), wealth (happiness comes only to those with a luxury car and a big house), beauty (beautiful people are good people) are just a few of these messages.

So let me ask it again: what is the one thing (or two or three) that occupies your thoughts?

What I’m getting at is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a very old one. Biblical times old. Moses old.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 (NKJV)

To the people under Moses’ leadership, it meant don’t worship anything above God.

Not a golden calf.

Not the gold that made the calf.

It meant don’t rely on anything or anyone but God to save, or guarantee anything. Indeed, we mustn’t because we can’t.

Yes, yes, we know. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Lots of rich folks have great sorrows.

But what about if one is super popular and has lots of friends? That’s all we need, right? Good times with good friends? (Assuming, of course, that nobody every changes, there’s never any disagreement, nobody moves, everyone always lifts each other up, and everyone you want to be around is always instantly available.) So in other words, maybe not?

Ok, so what about if we are super healthy? Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly? Healthy bodies means we’ll have a good long life, able to do everything we want or need to do. Ok, not a bad thing in and of itself. But doesn’t health mean tanned, toned bodies? Actually, no. But those are the images we’re urged to accept of health.

Where am I going with this? I’m asking you, simply–as I ask myself–to examine what we allow to occupy our minds and take up our precious time and energy. Our days and abilities are limited. Let’s make sure we’re laying them down at the feet of only the Worthy.



Home Takes Work

Home Takes Work

What does the word “home” mean to you? Is it the place you walk into, shut the door, and take refuge at the end of every day? Or the place you travel to a few times a year to see family or loved ones? Is it a treasured memory in a country far away?

The idea that there is someplace we’re fully able to belong, to relax: that’s home. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Home takes work. It takes constant maintenance, and effort, particularly when there are children in our home and we are the adults loving and caring for them.

I don’t always appreciate that work and effort enough, or give it enough weight. I think of it as lesser work. But it’s important.

It’s important for giving our kids (and ourselves!) a place of refuge. Most parents strive to create homes for our children with memories that will hopefully give them a strong foundation, and joy, when they’ve long since left that home. It’s a place where a framework for their futures is built, and on which their values, their priorities, their abilities will be formed and then deepened.

So home is important. But for those of us who follow Christian teachings, home is not everything. It’s certainly not the biggest house we can buy, furnished with the nicest furnishings and the most up-to-date technology, clothes, etc. It is, rather, the place from which we launch, striving always to complete our mission, whatever form it takes, and the place to which we retreat when we need to rest and recharge.

As I type this, it is snowing outside, threatening to make a very long week go out on a yet more hectic note. And so rather than dwell on all the worries that tomorrow could bring, I think I will call it a night, grateful that the kids are all sheltered, warm, and sleeping, and safe, and give myself that same respite.

Heartland Discoveries

Heartland Discoveries

It is mid-January as I write this. A few weeks ago, over the kids’ winter break, we decided to take a road trip. We chose somewhere we could easily drive to in a day, for our youngest, not quite three, is at an age that any parent will tell you makes longer trips challenging. And it was, after all, supposed to be a vacation.

We didn’t go somewhere warm and balmy, or somewhere famous. Our country’s diversity of climate, geography, and culture is awe-inspiring, and so we had decided some time ago that we want to see more of it. We went to a city in a state most of us had never been to: St. Louis, Missouri. And we had a blast. We saw some of the sights they have there. We met up for lunch with an old college friend of mine and his spouse. We visited a couple more places (but not all, thanks to the government shut-down). And we hung out together.

The famous Arch in St. Louis

Here’s what I learned about this place: like so many other parts of the country, there is a very urban/rural divide. We went through city neighborhoods where every other house had a Black Lives Matter sign in front (St. Louis is not far from Ferguson, MO). And we went through rural areas that looked very mid-America rural.

A lot of St. Louis’s most noteworthy buildings are the oldest of their kind west of the Mississippi River, which says a lot about the city’s significance as the country was expanding westward.





(The picture on the left was taken inside the Basilica of St. Louis, King (aka the Old Cathedral), the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi and, I must add, a beautiful building.)

For law and history lovers, the Old Courthouse in St. Louis is where the famous Dred Scott case was heard.



One building in particular, the City Museum, was recommended to us by everyone who had been to St. Louis, and we could see why. Its creator had quite the imagination, and managed to bring it to fruition impressively. The kids could have spent many more than the couple of hours we alloted there.


They could also have spent more time than we did at the Science Museum, which had some amazing displays and, notably, basic admission is free.

But the biggest take-away for me from this trip was that traveling with my family is fun. Famous or luxury destinations are definitely fun, but so is spending a few days away from the familiar and enjoying the journey together.

Now, as we settle back into winter hibernation and routine at home, I hope I can remember the little glimpses of my kids’ inner selves that I had the privilege of discovering, and the memories that my husband and I can add to our treasure box.


P.S. Ten months have gone by since I last posted, and so if anyone was waiting for a blog post, I apologize for the delay. I wrote at least three drafts on other topics, and then for reasons I can’t remember, never posted them. It has been that kind of year: full of change that is welcome but with which I have barely kept up. The holidays are over and the weather encourages hibernation; maybe in this season I can finally pick up again my figurative pen, for it brings me joy.

Goodness small and pale

Goodness small and pale

This morning, my almost two-year old son, holding up his arms to me, nestled his head against my neck as soon as I picked him up. For a moment, I savored the sweetness and the peace. It was a simple moment, like one experienced by many souls past and present on this earth, and it was priceless.

But then the day flooded in. Syrian children and other innocent civilians being bombed to death, or starving underground in order to avoid being bombed. Angry and worried gun-owners insisting that we need guns to protect us against the bad guys. Oh, and parents who less than two weeks ago lost their teenagers–teenagers!–and somehow managed to contain their mourning enough to go and plead to their governments to act, for this is not the first massacre.

The world is full of evil. There is also good in the world. And innocence. The goodness and innocence, small and pale in a world that is always competing loudly for our attention, are easy to miss.

But maybe the evil is too. Not the evil that makes itself known in blood and flesh spattered across sidewalks and high school lockers as kids run screaming. Not the evil that threatens people with their lives, or brazenly steals from them. That is evil we all recognize for what it is.

But there is also the evil that whispers to our fears, fanning them. The evil that blinds us to the way our own thoughts are fueled by self-preservation. Or pride. The evil that steals our peace, our churning malcontent bruising those close to us.

For Christians, this is the season of Lent. In the Orthodox church, it is a season of close examination and testing of our spiritual state, of repentance and a drawing near to the Source of Life. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It is only by drawing near to God that I can regain my perspective. While I cannot eliminate evil from my world–none of us can–I can seek God’s wisdom in how to recognize it. How to respond to it. How to love even those who bruise us. I can ask Him for the sustenance that the world in all its wonder cannot give. I can ask for peace. And I can have faith that God will answer.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Freedom

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Freedom

“What then is freedom?
The power to live as one wishes.”
–Marcus Tullius Cicero

The word “freedom” and its close corollaries (liberty, independence) are woven deep in the fabric of the United States. It is part of the water in which we swim without knowing it (apologies to the late David Foster Wallace and his commencement speech–worth the read). Not for us Americans is the omnipresent deference to one’s social group (family, cultural, religious, or geographic community, or nation even) that one finds in, for example, many near and far Eastern cultures. No, it is an individual’s right to live “free” that is so intrinsic in our culture that we don’t even question it. There is a reason that old Westerns are the most American of movies.

From whom or what is this freedom sought? From anyone or anything that obstructs us from living a life of our choosing, arguably, whether that be a societal or governmental force.

So who or what holds the power to grant or deny that freedom?

In Power Shift, author Alvin Toffler posits that traditional sources of power come from the use or potential use of one of three power sources: knowledge, money, and physical force. Governments, for example, can derive their power: from a military or police force whose potential use of physical force dictates what people can do; through knowledge its executive agencies possess that allows it to make decisions that private citizens cannot make, and to take actions based on them; and/or through the ability to incentivize or discourage certain behaviors through monetary awards.

Understanding of and receptiveness to an idea hinge upon how that idea is framed. So it is with freedom. Two different frameworks have evolved around the word “freedom” as it relates to our society and government in recent decades, such that now different segments of society use that word to advance two very different ideas. We can mostly agree that American freedom is the ability to live how you wish to live, choose who is a part of your life, etc.

But beyond that is a tension: freedom can mean the ability to live free from societal oppressions that plague some segments of our society more directly than others. Behind this is a recognition that the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, etc. limit the opportunities of and take away opportunities from those who are the objects of that prejudice. Those individuals, who on paper are just as entitled to the freedoms of every other American, are barred from not just opportunities, but from benefits that other citizens are allowed (red-lining is an easy example); in short, they are less free. Proponents of this idea of freedom advocate that we do not live in a free society until all members are equally free.

The second kind of freedom is framed as a lack of another type of restriction. It is freedom from governmental regulations, like, generally speaking, excessive taxes or overly stringent laws. Proponents of this type of freedom would give, as a recent example, the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This stance resists the idea that lawmakers, who often live elsewhere and don’t know the intimate details of their constituents’ lives, should make laws that limit what their constituents can and cannot do.

At first impression, there is an easy distinction between the two frameworks: the first is a proactive approach to create a society that strives for freedom for everyone by making sure every citizen has access to the same opportunities. (Whether they take advantage of those opportunities is another question.) The society it works towards is free from sociological ills; let’s call it Freedom through Social Equality.

The second framework focuses much more on the role of government. Its proponents may or may not accept that society is plagued by injustices, but either way, they do not want to see the government try to solve those problems. It is governmental overreach that proponents of this freedom resist; this framework will be called, for purposes of this essay, Freedom through Limited Government.

To demonstrate Freedom through Social Equality, allow me to give an example from my days of working on equal opportunity in employment. There are many challenges in hiring. It is very hard to predict how well a candidate will perform in the job and get along with other employees. Many employers use interviews to try to predict, but haven’t we all known someone who is terrible at interviews and so can’t get a job at which they’d excel if given the chance? (Or, conversely, people who interview really well but are sparse on actual skills, or work ethic?) This particular subset of work, equal opportunity, has to do with reversing hiring practices that intentionally and unintentionally favor some candidates while disadvantaging others. This is done through several ways: choosing words carefully for a job listing, soliciting applications in a certain way (mitigating complete reliance on the “ol’ boys’ network”), paying attention to interviewing techniques and even locations, using the same set of interview questions and ratings of the answers for all interviews, just to name a few.

On the macroscopic level, proponents of Freedom through Social Equality believe we as a society should likewise study how society disadvantages some while giving advantages to others, and then actively work to reverse those inequities. As the body which holds the power to regulate civic behavior, it is the role of government, such proponents believe, to implement this work.

And in fact, the government has regulated behavior through policy for decades, if not for the purpose of erasing inequalities, then at least for encouraging what our civic leaders believe are behaviors that benefit society. Our current tax system provides an easy demonstration: filing jointly is meant to benefit married couples. Why? Because our government decided that it would be good for society to encourage the stability that comes with marriage, so it gave a tax benefit to those who chose to make the commitment of marriage.

Then there’s Freedom through Limited Government, there are fundamental underlying assumptions through which proponents of this view see society. The first is that less restriction leads to more innovation and more prosperity. So markets will grow stronger with only basic and necessary regulation. Markets exist to make money. When regulation becomes excessive, organizations have a burden of compliance (through, for example, filing out report forms, providing training, or carrying out mandatory practices) that requires spending money and effort that could otherwise be spent on their core mission or on innovation.

Recently, market theories have been applied elsewhere in the public sphere: two that are on many people’s minds today are health care and education. Market theory says that if we leave these areas to compete, enterprising minds will come up with ways to make health care cheaper or offer stronger education systems. Currently, there are public options for education–and in very few places, specialized medicine beyond primary care–that anyone can access. Taken to its extreme, market theory would privatize both these services.

An underlying assumption behind market theory is that money is the main–or at the very least an important–motivator for behavior: everyone wants to earn money, and to pay less money for goods and services. But there are other powerful motivators for behavior. For people who hold a strong spiritual or even political ideological worldview, following those beliefs may be an even stronger motivator than money. Proponents of Freedom through Limited Government, I would argue, can hold different worldviews (there are pure market capitalists, deeply religious people, pure libertarians, etc.), but what they hold in common is that government should, to the degree possible, not promote any worldview.

It is here, at the intersection of constituents’ worldviews and the role of government, that the tension about what freedom is comes into sharpest focus. Because of course, every government reflects, to some degree, the values of the people who elected it. This country began as one based on Judeo-Christian values. While the separation of church and state has been pretty universally adopted, there are values from this tradition that remain. Some are now challenged (like the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman), while others continue to be widely cherished (like the importance of honesty, or hard work). As a society, our values are reflected in our criminal laws, tax code, and in countless other areas of legislation.

But given that our society, today more than ever, consists of such a variety of worldviews and motivators, there is the question of what, or whose, worldview–or put another way, moral code–a civil society should abide by. That is what much of our political tension boils down to in the current climate. What behaviors should the government continue to regulate or encourage, and what should the government leave to the private sphere? Is it the role of government only to advocate for policies that will bring economic growth to its constituents (and consequently enrich the government)? And if government’s role should be limited to economic policy (in addition to the basics of building public services (roads, waste services, etc. and of running a national military), that raises another question: how far into other areas should the government go in order to advance economic growth? Do issues like wealth disparity or climate conservation have an impact on economic strength, and if so, is it then within the government’s purview to address them? When it comes to behaviors, to what extent should the government regulate them? Why is it acceptable to mandate some behaviors, like wearing a seat belt in the car, but controversial whether the government should allow or ban the use of recreational marijuana? And should the government be consistently present across spheres: economic, civic, moral/ethical, etc?

These questions bear some contemplation. While freedom is important, so is the need to preserve another aspect of our American heritage: a country whose laws are fair, where movement between socio-economic class is possible, and a country that is governed by the rule of law, to name just a few aspects. How do we keep the American ideal of freedom for the individual without allowing the individual freedoms of some to tread on the opportunities of others? At what point do individuals’ rights to freedom strike a balance with the country’s civic health?

This country’s stars and stripes offer a very visible demonstration of this balance between individuality and membership in a group. Any one of the fifty stars has clearly defined boundaries; its bright white does not fade gradually into the surrounding red. But any one of the fifty stars alone is just a star, its power diminished by its solitude. Placed among the collection of 50 stars, though, the strength of those stars is striking.

“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”
–Barack Obama