It lay in the attic near the widow – the window such as it was. Eons of wispy cobwebs filtered what little light existed to barely reveal the presence of the old wooden crate nearly obscured in the semi-darkness.
Approaching cautiously – the combined fears of falling through the ancient flooring; the startling scurry of rats; and spiders whose webs made progress agonizingly slow – the treasure-hunter paused with trepidation upon the discovery beneath the brushed-aside accumulated dust the once-bold-but-long-since-faded letters: ‘DANGER, DYNAMITE.’
Hesitant, alone and afraid, unsuccessfully shrugging away unreasonable fears of impending doom, his fingers appearing bony and skeletal-like, he reached out and slowly, ever so slowly, lifted the creaking lid.
What he discovered is emblematic of our culture. But it wasn’t always.
Oftentimes throughout history, those who “questioned and upset the status quo and the judgments of those who held power,” writes Msg. Charles Pope, were deemed “unpatriotic, even downright dangerous.”
Dangerous, much as you would expect dynamite to be.
They were truth-tellers and no one escaped.
“Most of us struggle with the truth to some extent, especially those of us who prefer a more gentle discourse with large doses of honey and very little vinegar.”
Truth is like dynamite. Truth is – to some – dangerous; explosive; excoriating; vehement; angry.
‘We-hold-these-truths-to-be-self-evident’ kind of truths.
In his syndicated column of July 4, 2008, Pulitzer Price-winning columnist for the Washington Post and Newsday, George Will wrote concerning the birth of our nation, specifically of those in Mecklenburg County, N.C.: “The impatient patriots here had splendidly short fuses in 1775.”
July 4, 1776 is what we commemorate as the date of our Declaration of Independence but it was, writes Will, the incensed Presbyterian ministers of Mecklenburg – fined for conducting marriages – who, along with their fellow citizens on May 20, 1775 declared themselves independent and to one-another pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor” – nine words that would be echoed in the 1776 declaration.
“Our Sacred Honor,” is the title of William J. Bennett’s compilation of advice from our nation’s founders. The first section is entitled “Patriotism and Courage” implying there is a connection.
“Patriotism,” writes Bennett, “means love of country, and it can call for great sacrifices and courage, perhaps even for the sacrifice of one’s own life. Most of us don’t have as keen a sense of that now as did the Founders.”
But there was a time.
“Most of the signers of the Declaration as well as other Americans suffered for their devotion to the cause of independence – many had to flee their homes; some lost their property and their fortunes, which they and their families never recovered.”
Now, these many, many years removed – centuries even – from the ink scrawled – and blood spilt – to establish our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we today seem to have but an attic-full of distance-fogged and time-shrouded memories of what once mattered.
Like the box up there in the long, long unfrequented room of antiquated relics, the one labeled ‘Danger – Dynamite.’
The disappointment was profound.
It was empty.