Harriet Freiberger: The nation’s larger purpose
July 4, 2007
A few weeks ago, a young woman questioned my words about honoring our dead soldiers through a renewed sense of our nation’s larger purpose.
“What is that purpose?” she asked. “We each want something different.” I was taken aback by her need to ask. How many others must have the same question?
For each of our three hundred million people this day means something different; for many it means nothing at all. That fact reveals the answer.
During the past 231 years, the United States of America has offered increasing freedom to an increasing number of individuals. To accomplish this feat, we have, at various intervals in our history, become a nation divided. Today’s demarcation extends throughout our culture, from the halls of Congress as far into our core as the smallest neighborhood. We have simply, and I believe only briefly, forgotten a fundamental concept.
In elementary school we learn about working with fractions, how to combine them into one number by finding the lowest common denominator. Somehow we have forgotten how to see ourselves as part of a whole.
In my immediate family, there are three of us, each one a third of the whole. The lowest common denominator is three. The better defined that commonality is, and the sooner, the more effectively the family will function in addressing the needs of each member. Sounds simple. Yet, each enlargement of the spectrum makes it more difficult to arrive at a lowest common denominator. At the same time, the farther we can reach and subsequently include, the greater will be our satisfaction with what is around us.
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We learn from experience, as children, about being part of something larger than ourselves.
Growing older, extending our circle outside the basic family unit, we take the next step. With each expansion, we see a bigger and bigger picture of our world. Of course, everyone follows a different path and meets with different results – thus our individual personalities and abilities, but progression usually moves along through extended family, through school with its teachers and fellow students, to a community that includes family units and workplaces where we can become competent at providing for our needs, and ultimately to an organized system of government as a structure in which successful and peaceful change can take place.
That governmental structure creates the lowest common denominator. Living in a house with other people, on a street with other families, in a town of ten thousand, a county of twenty thousand, a state of five million, in a country of three hundred million, on a planet of billions, we work to find the whole of which we are a part.
Here in Northwest Colorado, where the Routt National Forest’s half million acres comprise one third of our county’s land, thousands of visitors pass through our town en route to the forest. Lincoln Avenue serves as our family’s living room, where each individual is affected by not only his own actions, but also everyone else’s. With each person’s entrance, the room takes shape, extends its boundaries, opens its windows, arrives at a lowest common denominator. That’s what America is about.
Today, on July 4, we celebrate its 231st birthday. However, we should take note that fifteen years passed between our Declaration of Independence and the adoption of The Constitution. Fifty-five individuals worked together, in spite of their significant differences, to complete a written document that defined the new nation’s government. They constructed a framework which has supported a growing and diverse population; their work, two centuries later, continues to offer an optimistic and ever-widening vision for the future.
Yes, we all want something different, but, as fractional parts of a definitive whole, we also all seek the same thing: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As we revel in our differences, let’s remember what joins us together as the United States of America.
Harriet Freiberger is a writer who has lived in the Routt County’s Elk River Valley since 1982.
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