Old trucks, the first amendment, and abstract nouns…

When I taught freshman English many years ago, I remember reviewing the concept of abstract nouns—words that exist in thought or as an idea but don’t have a physical or concrete existence.

My go-to example when teaching this lesson was that abstract nouns couldn’t be bought in a store—you simply aren’t able to buy 2 bags of love, or 5 pounds of freedom.

In the days in which we are currently living, I often ponder about abstract words: freedom, equality, kindness, love, hate, division, unity, control, power. Though these ideas are not tangible, they do exist in such a powerful, consuming way. Our core values, beliefs and foundations of government are based on these untouchable but bona fide truths. The different ways these words and concepts are defined and interpreted by citizens often leads to division within our society, and separates us from the age old American maxim of being one unified nation.

I honestly try to stay away from political topics. I know it’s almost taboo to express thoughts and ideas that are not generally held or approved by the “mainstream.” And sadly, the result of expressing one’s beliefs sometimes leads to anger, violence, or cancellation.

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This amendment was added in 1791, along with nine other amendments that make up the Bill of Rights – a written document protecting civil liberties under U.S. law. The meaning of the First Amendment has been the subject of continuing interpretation and dispute over the years.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much. Most of you listen to the news, or find another source to keep you informed. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which might not be a bad idea right now) you know about the censorship and threats to free speech that have occurred since the early days of January.

When it comes to free speech, the definition and interpretation varies from person to person, group to group. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe that freedom of speech in our country is endangered—to back this notion up, all you have to do is “Follow the money.”

Like it or not, our nation is controlled by several major companies: Big Brother is disguised as Big Tech: Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, to name a few. More and more each day, their reach (or over-reach) into our every day lives increases. From money donated to elections, to censorship of people based on political party affiliation, Big Tech is using their power to influence Americans in almost every aspect of our lives.

Again, I don’t want to get too political. After all, I’m a consumer of many of the things Big Tech has to offer, from the music I listen to, to the way I communicate (cell phone and email), and until recently, Facebook and Twitter.

For Christmas, we bought an Echo Show so we can video call/chat with our grandson. Even though it’s a little creepy for Alexa to alert me that a package was just delivered to my house (because I also have a very close relationship with Amazon), the moments we get to share with Cooper who is six hours away, make it worth the nagging thoughts of the somewhat unsettling invasion of privacy…

I’ve probably already lost many of those who started reading this, but for the few of you who are trudging along hoping I make a point, here it is:  I believe with every fiber of my being, that we are in a crisis when it comes to our first amendment rights. It seems that when people dislike an opposing noun (person, place, or thing), or don’t agree with the ideas and beliefs (abstract nouns) of certain groups, they want to silence their voice, or better yet, cancel them.

My purpose in this blog isn’t to cause dissension, or come across as some unhinged, right-wing radical. I simply hope to use my words to reach out to others who are more intelligent, and savvy than I. My hope is that through discussion and dialogue, I can better understand the reasons behind this movement, and what I can do to better represent and serve my point of view. What can I do to help promote and protect the freedoms the Founders established for us over two hundred years ago?

I guess to begin this journey toward self-discovery, I should try to answer the question “Why is this so important to me?

It’s simple and selfish. It’s all about my children and my grandson. I want them to live in a world that is peaceful, and fair, and kind, and just. I want them to experience those abstract nouns to the fullest. I want them to have a better life, and a wide array of opportunities. I want them to feel safe, secure, protected, and not only respect others, but be respected as well.

One of my very favorite songs is by Dierks Bentley. It’s called, “I Hold On.” When I hear it, I’m always reminded of my Dad, and his truck, and the time the two of us drove back from Washington, D.C. The song evokes great memories, and it’s also filled with those abstract nouns that describe the things that keep me holding on: Faith, Freedom, and Love.

Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s just an old beat up truck

Some say that I should trade up

Now that I got some jangle in my pocket.

But what they don’t understand

Is it’s the miles that make a man

I wouldn’t trade that thing in for a rocket.

What they don’t know is my dad and me

We drove her out to Tennessee.

She’s still here, and now he’s gone.

So I hold on

To the things I believe in.

My faith, your love, our freedom.

To the things I can count on

To keep me going strong.

Yeah, I hold on.”

In my life, I not only hold on to those abstract nouns, I cling to them. Those simple words are the base or the foundation from which I stand. Within each word there is power and belief in their meaning and the framework from which our country was built—the simple words and tenets that keep me holding on, and underscore my belief in America and my fellow Americans.

I am a firm believer in individual accountability. I concur with Tucker Carlson’s nightly statement when he says,  “This show is the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think.”  Group think is the enemy of freedom.

As a parent, I’m sure I made many mistakes, but one thing I believe I reinforced in my children is that they are responsible for their choices and their actions.

When my youngest son was in the 8th grade, he was supposed to get a paper signed and returned to his teacher. If he did this by a certain date, he would get extra credit points. On the day this paper was due, I received a call at work from my son, asking if I would go home and get that paper, sign it, and bring it to his school.

I responded by telling him I most certainly would not. A co-worker who was with me at the time said, “Oh, but you should do it! It’s one of the perks of working in the same district as your kids.”

I replied by stating that it wasn’t fair. That other children’s parents weren’t able to take off work and swoop in to save the day, and I wasn’t going to do it either. It wasn’t my responsibility. It was his.

And that’s what I think about life. I’m sure in many ways I was a helicopter parent. I did stay on top of my kids and make sure they completed tasks, and assignments, and scholarship applications. I made sure they wrote thank you notes, and cleaned up after themselves. And when they messed up, I hoped that they understood the importance of making good choices. But at the end of the day, whatever they did or didn’t do was a matter of personal choice.

The days of everyone getting a trophy, and being the best, and not keeping score, and getting stickers, and winning all the time isn’t real. And that’s where our problems lie. We’ve raised a generation of people who have never failed, or never had to work their way out of a problem. I’m preaching to the choir, so please don’t think I’m being haughty or judgmental. I always tried to make life the best and easiest it could be for my kids. However, discovering that the most important lessons they learned were from their mistakes, made me a much better, and wiser parent.

Each day I pray that my children, and my grandchildren, have a life they love. I hope their lives are filled with all the wonderful abstract nouns that the world has to offer. I hope that in their lifetime, they will see and experience unity, love, and respect, and I earnestly pray they will never ever lose the freedoms provided and guaranteed to them by the law of our land, the Constitution.

One of my favorite movies is, “Dan in Real Life.” It stars Steve Carrell, and centers around a writer who is a single dad raising three daughters. The movie is sweet, and a little sad, and very real. If you haven’t watched it, I hope you will.

Without giving anything away, the column Dan writes becomes syndicated, mainly because his writing, like his life, is so honest and real.

The movie ends with these words from Dan:

“Dear Readers,

For most of you, this is my first column in your paper. In the future, I will be answering your questions, but today I want to break from my usual format and talk to you about the subject of plans. Not so much my plan for this column, but life plans, and how we all make them. And how we hope that our kids make good, smart, safe plans of their own. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, our plans usually don’t work out as we had hoped. So instead of asking our young people “What are you plans? What do you plan to do with your life?” Maybe we should tell them this: Plan to be surprised.” (Peter Hedges, Dan in Real Life. 2007.)

During these crazy times, so many things are out of our control. Most of the things we plan, at least in the last year, haven’t worked out as we hoped. I promise, if you search within your disappointment, and look deeply within the uncertainty, you will find those abstract nouns that are the things that make life worth living. Embrace them. Share them. Save those moments and feelings in your heart. When you do that, the words become real, and people will be able to see their meaning in you—-the joy, the grace, the relentless spirit of always moving ahead to better days.

As I wind this thing up, it has been my goal that somehow you’ve been able to make a connection between old trucks, the first amendment, and abstract nouns. My wish is that your life is filled with JOY, HAPPINESS, LOVE, KINDNESS, RESPECT, and FREEDOM.

I also hope and pray that you will fight for these things. That you’ll speak out and stand up for others. That you’ll help right the wrongs. That you’ll fight for freedom, and democracy. That you’ll be an embodiment of the American Spirit. If each of us does this in our own little corner of the world, it will become a better place.

If you don’t already know what it is, start searching for your “whys”—the things that are important to you. The things you live for.

I, for one, will fight to preserve those freedoms. The values and beliefs that soldiers have fought and died for.

Let us never forget to “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LifeLiberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And in our pursuit of all these wonderful abstract nouns, I hope each of you finds your own meaning and definition. May you be reminded of your “whys.” May you remember rides in old trucks, and talks with loved ones. May you be ever mindful of your legacy and that of our great nation.

And most of all, may you be filled with happiness best described in the words of a song from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“Happiness is two kinds of ice cream

Finding your skate key, telling the time.

Happiness is learning to whistle

Tying your shoe for the very first time.

Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band

And happiness is walking hand in hand.”

(thanks to Sue Smith, music teacher at Raguet Elementary, for teaching this song. I can still hear the sounds of the sweet chorus of lifelong friends singing these words in our cafe-gym-a-torium. That’s what happiness is…good friends, and warm memories).

Oh, by the way. I hear there’s a sale on Freedom, and Love, and Peace at the local store. (Buy one, get one free). I’m praying there is an abundant, never-ending supply.

Click here to listen to “I Hold On.”

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