There’s a cemetary shaded by tall, old trees in the middle of the small town of Freedom, Wisonsin, right next to the St. Nicholas Church. The names represented on the headstones are that of the typical American fare – Smith, Green, Murphy – but with an emphasis on Dutch descent, including the likes of Vanderburg and Van Asten. The Dutch are further represented around town by well-maintained yards, sprinkled with ‘Dutch boy kissing girl’ lawn ornaments. The town’s name speaks of something inherent in the American spirit. And the Dutch, like so many other foreigners over the centuries – forced by various reasons – immigrated to America to find real freedom. It’s simple to imagine so many people, finding happiness through both industry and community, finally retiring and ending up in a graveyard where the struggles and pleasures of living are all at once muted. Did they truly, all their lives, appreciate the town’s name? Or did it all end abruptly, perhaps like the little Dutch boy unable to stop the bursting of the dike because of a cramping finger?
This coming Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of 9-11. There was a flight that day that illustrated the struggle of the American spirit. The passengers on flight United 93 were unaware of the fight they would have to endure in order to protect their right to freedom. Men like Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, and Tom Burnett, grew up in towns like Freedom, a place where parents take pride in the things their children do, and the children take pride in themselves. No doubt not one of them imagined having to stand up one day for their freedom, for their community, or for the nation, in a way that would shift the balance of their lives from that of every-day-living to that of forced, desperate heroics.
I’ve never seen the movie “United 93”. I’ve always believed it would be far too depressing to sit through. The panic that must have made up those first moments would undoubtedly have been overwhelming for those passengers while, at the same time, straining each one’s perception of reality. The thoughts of possibly never seeing loved one’s ever again or the stress of stepping from life into death would seem insurmountable while testing the boundaries of faith, not to mention the irony of making peace with God just prior to a violent ending. But now I think it’s time to feel the anguish, the desperation, felt by the passengers of United 93 that day. After all, freedom shouldn’t be just a name of a town, but also a concept to be both appreciated and understood, which, I can only imagine, can only be accomplished through struggle and loss.