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Withholding Nothing

“Take your son, your only Isaac, whom you love, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” -Genesis 22:2

This is possibly the most gut-wrenching, incomprehensible interaction between God and man in the Bible. Our minds reel and spin trying to make sense of it. We know from the end of the story that God never intends to let Abraham go through with it, we know He’s going to provide the ram, but still we wince at the command.

“Take your son…”

We understand that God has the right to take not only Isaac’s life, but ours, at any moment by any means with no explanation owed to us at all – we understand…

…but at a father’s own hand?

We know that Abraham’s faith was such that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead if he sacrificed him.

OK?

We rationalize – perhaps God didn’t make his command against human sacrifice explicit until Moses, so maybe Abraham…thought…?

What?

What thoughts can I put into Abraham’s mind to make this OK?

Sometimes we wish that God would speak to us as plainly as he spoke to Abraham, or that we had Abraham’s faith – until we read this passage, then we think maybe it’s just as well that God doesn’t come visit us and make us promises.

This is the most gut-wrenching, incomprehensible interaction between God and a man in the Bible…until we reach Jesus. Then we find a father who offers his son as a sacrifice, but freely – there was no one commanding Him to do it. We find a son who isn’t confused about who the sacrifice is, but carries the wood up the hill anyway. There won’t be any angel to stop it; no ram in the bush this time. The lash falls, the fists bruise, the thorns are pressed into the flesh, the nails hammered and the Son of God is crucified. The pain radiates through the body and the breath is strangled from the lungs and the Father … turns away.

The blade, unrestrained this time, pierces the heart, and we understand.

What God merely tested Abraham’s willingness to do, He would actually do one day for us.

*Painting by Slava Groshev, “Abraham and Isaac”

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Coming Home

It was well before dawn when he stepped off the bus at the crossroads of Speedwell, VA. It was 1945. The war had just ended, though his part in it had ended three months earlier. His shoulder ached in the cold October air and his fingers tingled – the nurses had told him that it would never get much better than that. He eased his kit over his good shoulder and started east down the dirt road.

As he walked, broken images of home began to form in his mind – memories that had failed him in the darkest parts of the war, when the ugliness of the fighting had driven pictures of home away, when nights in the hospital brought only terrors and nightmares until he was half convinced that home had never really been.

St. Peter’s Road was a dirt road in the truest sense, a narrow packed-earth lane that wound through the hills of southern Wythe County. He shuffled down the road between the farms mechanically, tired with a weariness born of more than a sleepless night on the bus. It was dark and still yet when he reached his uncle’s farm and decided to leave the road and cross the pastures between his uncle’s and home.

As he slipped through the gate, the gurgle of Cripple Creek grew louder where its cold water rushed over rocky shallows before cutting a deep, still hole at a sharp bend. “Dim Hole” is what they called this favorite swimming spot. A brilliant picture of it in full sunlight – his little sister lined up for the rope swing, his brother mid-leap into its waters – flashed into his mind and out again in an instant, leaving the echo of his sister’s laughter ringing a moment longer before yielding again to the stillness.

His aunt and uncle’s driveway ended at a swinging bridge that crossed the wide stream. Only farm vehicles could ford Cripple Creek there to reach the house and fields beyond. He left the road to climb the hill pasture. The night didn’t worry him, he had walked that path a thousand times in his youth, but he grew winded half-way up the hill and paused a moment as the first streaks of dawn marked the sky. He turned to look back across the valley and saw a twinkle of light, a sign that his aunt was up and starting their day.

Behind him a sound floated over the top of the hill – the voice of his mother calling the cows in from the fields to be milked. It wasn’t a gentle, melodic call – his mother’s voice was tuned more for reach than for comfort – but it was the voice of an angel to him. His heart ached and tears stood out in his eyes. He lifted his pack and redoubled his pace.

He crested the hill and slipped into the lane overhung with walnut trees. The cows slid heavily past him, eager for the warmth of the barn, some alfalfa and the relief of being milked. They continued on as he slipped through the gate at the salt-house and climbed the stone steps into the yard. The closed porch was cold and dark, full of work coats and boots, gloves and hats ready for the day’s work. He eased his kit to the floor and paused in front of the kitchen door, braced against the flood of memories.

He knew what waited for him inside – the warmth of the wood stove, the smell of country ham and biscuits, his mother’s strong arms around his neck, his little sister’s fierce, relentless monkey hug. His brother would immediately tell him how many groundhogs he had shot that summer and eagerly ask him how many Germans he had killed. Please, God, no. His father would shake his hand firmly and long, clear his throat and welcome him home and huskily let him know he could join him on the back side of the farm to repair the fence after breakfast if he felt like it.

The pain wasn’t going to disappear when he walk inside, and the nightmares would return, but he knew that this was where he could begin to find peace.

He opened the door and came home.

Dad’s Tool Bag

Dads bag exteriorDad’s tool bag caught my attention one afternoon last year at Uncle Bruce’s farm. The ubiquitous worn canvas bag was Dad’s travelling tool kit that he kept in the trunk of our car. It was so common a sight growing up that I would certainly have ignored it again this time, had it not been sporting the most obnoxious set of purple handles. The bright new nylon straps would have stood out on anything, but they were especially noticeable against the bag’s faded drab-green material.

The canvas’ color hinted at the bag’s origin – it was military – and thus at the reason for its longevity. The Air Force issued the bag to my father in 1959 while he was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I looked closer at the straps, which were sewn neatly and securely onto the old canvas. The condition of the bag was worrisome. It was torn and frayed to a degree I had never noticed before, and made me wonder if it would hold up much longer.

“Hey Dad,” I asked, “what’s the story with these handles?”

“Oh, the original ones finally gave out and I had these straps lying around the shop that I could use.”

I smiled. I wonder if it even crossed his mind to buy a new tool bag? But this was a man who grew up on a Virginia mountain farm in the 1930’s and 40’s. He and his brothers used to spend winters straightening buckets of used nails for the following spring’s work. He was not one to give up on a bag after a mere 57 years of use. I sobered, not liking the encroaching thoughts – there is a stage in a man’s life when the familiar is far more valuable than the new.

I picked it up tentatively…yep, still surprisingly heavy, but solid as ever. The bag’s weight always caught me off guard. You didn’t just casually reach over and pick it up, or push it out of the way; you sort of had to brace yourself if you were slightly built, as I was.

Dads bag contentsIt occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to learn something. What tools does an experienced man keep in his tool bag? Laid out on the table, they were only remarkable in their un-remarkableness. Dad had spent almost six decades equipping this bag, paring away extraneous tools until all that remained were the proven and most useful ones. No high-tech, infinitely-adjustable swiss-army tools here, just the basics – pitted, worn, stained and repaired.

Dads bag interior

“What are you doing?” asked Dad. I told him and he chuckled, “You know, the most valuable thing in that bag isn’t the tools, it’s the odds and ends I’ve collected at the bottom.” Sure enough, there was an inch-deep layer of assorted nuts, bolts, washers, wires and miscellany left in the bottom. Curious, I hefted the bag again. It was nearly as heavy as before.

“You want to have a collection like that to sort through in a pinch.” he said earnestly,

 

“Nine times out of ten I can find something to make do with in there.”

This was true. Dad’s bag was like my wife’s purse – if you find yourself in an unexpected situation that requires fixing, he’ll rummage through it and magically produce what you need with a little smile.

It occurred to me that Dad had grown to resemble his bag over the years: reliably present, but unassuming; worn and weathered with age, but strong and resilient. His presence bears a gravity, a weightiness, that isn’t manifest until one tries to move him out of his place. Dad has in him that set of skills and character and knowledge, gathered over a lifetime of curiosity and dutiful service, that those who know him marvel at, and those who rely on him feel secure in.

They say some people grow more and more like their pets as the years pass, their personalities and even physical appearances taking on an odd likeness. Maybe it can happen between a man and his bag.Dad and Emily

Liberty, Privilege and Emma Lazarus

emma-liberty

Can a product of privilege ever really connect to the rest of us?  Are they capable of empathizing with the plight of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, the exile, the homeless and “tempest-tost?”  Can one who grew up among wealth and the business elite, who never saw the inside of a public school, and started out with a “small loan” from father that most Americans couldn’t dream of providing their children have the right to an opinion about the plight of refugees?  Yet here we are, with just such a person’s words bearing the weight of public policy opinion regarding immigration.  Read her oft-quoted opinion about the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The New Colossus – Emma Lazarus, 1883

new_colossus_manuscript_lazarus

The New Colossus

Ms. Lazarus’ poem, inscribed on a plaque in the Statue of Liberty pedestal, has been quoted over and over by advocates of a more open-door refugee policy.  It’s brought tears to the eyes of many Americans contemplating their immigrant ancestors, though it’s easily forgotten when considering less desirable immigrants.  Who was this 34-year-old woman, and what does her poem mean to us today?

Emma Lazarus was the daughter of Moses and Esther Nathan Lazarus, a wealthy Jewish couple from New York.  Moses’ Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) Jewish ancestors were early immigrants to America before the Revolution, and the family had deep roots in high society.  (Moses became a founding member of the Knickerbocker Club with the Vanderbilts and Astors when Emma was 22 years old.)  Emma’s father had made his fortune in sugar refinement and the family summered in their Newport seaside cottage.  Emma was “home-schooled,” receiving a classical education from private tutors, learning Italian and French as well as German, the language of her mother’s ancestors.  She loved to write and, at age 17, her father published her first book of poems for her.  Mentored by an impressed Ralph Waldo Emerson, she would go on to become the first widely popular Jewish poet in America.

Emma was marked deeply by the world beyond her New York home, a world that was very different from ours today.  Her generation witnessed the doubling of their country’s size.(1)  When Emma was 18 years old, America purchased Alaska from the Russian Tsar Alexander II.  The size of her country had grown, but when Emma penned her famous poem, America’s population was just 16% of what it is today.  It, too, was growing fast though, more than twice today’s pace, and immigration constituted a larger proportion of the growth.  In 1881, the Russian Tsar (of Alaskan fame) was assassinated and the blame placed on Russian Jews, sparking a fresh wave of pogroms(2) in the Pale of Settlement, a western region of Imperial Russia where Jews had been allowed to live.  The violent riots would continue for three years, and persecuted Jews fled Russian in droves, many of them to New York, spiking immigration numbers in America.  The term, “anti-Semite,” was coined and popularized in Germany in 1879 and expressions of it grew in America in response to the flood of Jewish refugees.  There was no Israel to return to yet.

It was in the midst of this world that Emma Lazarus was finding her heart and calling.  Increasingly, she dedicated her writing and public activities to fight anti-Semitism and help the indigent Jewish refugees experience freedom, opportunity and a home in American.  She helped found the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training for Jewish immigrants and added her voice to the Zionist movement, calling for a Jewish homeland before even Theodor Herzl.

torch

Right Arm and Torch on Display

Perhaps it was because she was so busy with her calling that she first declined a request to write an original poem for a fund-raising auction for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.(3)  But when she reconsidered, is it any wonder that she produced the poem she did?  For Emma, the statue’s name was “Mother of Exiles,” a welcoming figure to the poor and tired, the homeless and tempest-tossed, the “wretched refuse” of the pompous lands of Europe.  For her, it stood in contrast to its ancient twin, the Colossus of Rhodes, equal in height and construction, but mounted as a threatening testament to military might.(4)  It’s no wonder that she focused on her torch, the symbol of liberty, and interpreted it as a beacon of welcome to the world.  She poured her passion and mission into that poem, and produced a vision that would inspire many after her.

Her poem, donated simply with the goal of raising money, was later rediscovered and mounted on a plaque within the pedestal in 1903, 16 years after her death.  What can Emma’s poem tell us about American immigration and refugee policy today?

Not much.  It’s a poem.

That is not to belittle it, that is to respect it for what it is, the passionate expression of a 19th century Jewish poet with a heart for refugees.  It is neither a constituting document of our nation nor an enumerated right within our laws.  Although I can’t recite this poem without my voice catching and eyes moistening, I recognize that it is just one fellow-citizen’s impression of the statue’s significance.  For example, her poem focuses on Liberty’s torch, but makes no mention of what she holds in her other hand, a tablet on which the date of the Declaration of Independence is written.  The tablet is in the form of a tabula ansata, a common Roman motif often symbolizing the law.  Herein is rich symbolism to explore, but it is left out of her famous poem.

Where does that leave us, then?  Ironically, it leaves us precisely as Lady Liberty’s torch suggests – free.  We are each free to develop, propagate and defend the public policy on immigration that we believe to be good and right.  It leaves us as a nation free to execute our policy as our laws allow, without asking for the approval of any other nation.  Only, respect one another.  We are different people with different experiences and priorities.  Leave room for a fellow American not to be like you, and give your compatriot some benefit of the doubt when they disagree.  God helping, I’ll do the same for you.

God grant that the promise of Emma’s poem may continue to be realized for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and that our hearts will stay soft to their plight so that we will always seek ways to safely extend that promise.

 

(1) From 1845 to 1867, America added what would become Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Alaska, Texas and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma.

(2) Violent populist riots against an ethnic or religious group

(3) The French had finished the Statue of Liberty, but America was struggling to raise the money for its pedestal in the wake of the depression of the 1870’s.

(4) The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was a 3rd century BC bronze statue of the Greek titan-god Helios erected in the harbor of Rhodes in celebration of victory over Cyprian attacks.

Trump’s Nefareous First Move?

I’m so sick of being played by politicians who count on me not knowing the details and nuance of certain circumstances. They count on our loyalty to “tribe” and our emotional reaction to their soundbites to keep us from thinking clearly. That’s my take-away from this post. If that’s all you need to hear, don’t bother with the rest. It’s a bit tedious.

Only a few hours into the new administration and it’s already started. Trump immediately began adding to the burden of low-income Americans by having the FHA raise insurance rates on home loans, raising the first-year costs of home ownership by hundreds of dollars. There’s also some weird stuff about Obama having just implemented a cut last week and a lot of numbers (“a quarter percentage point,” 3.5%, 580), but it’s pretty clear what’s going on…

…or is it?

The FHA, like the failed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is a government agency that plays a massive role in the residential lending market of America. It uses tax-payer backing to insure loans that the open market would never make otherwise because the riskiness of the borrowers is so high. Remember the subprime mortgage crisis? The FHA required a $1.7 billion bailout from the Treasury in 2013 for its exposure to foreclosures and for backing so many loans after the market realized the danger and stopped.

For example, an FHA-approved bank can lend money to a first-time and/or low-income home buyer who can make a down payment as low as 3.5% and has a credit score as low as 580. Now, there are folks who are good for the loan and will pay it back faithfully, but overall this is so risky that no bank would ever consider it unless the interest rate was thru the roof and/or there was expensive mortgage insurance to cover it. How much would you charge to insure a loan that risky? You or I would ask so much that the borrower couldn’t afford it. The FHA, however, offers them loan insurance at an artificially low rate to entice the bank to make the loan at a low interest rate.

In other words, the FHA takes away the natural risk of the loan and puts lots of families in danger of foreclosure for the goal of increasing home ownership. Exactly the situation that contributed to the sub-prime housing crisis and Great Recession.

Since the housing crisis, the FHA has expanded its loan coverage enormously by filling in the sub-prime loan market. Its cash reserves to covered loans ratio fell below the legal limit of 2% for years, and the Obama administration had the FHA raise their insurance fees numerous times attempting to increase those reserves. (Don’t miss that – Obama raised insurance cost to homebuyers numerous times because the FHA was in trouble.)

Last week, Obama announced that the FHA insurance rate would be lowered by 25 basis points effective January 27. This was done without consulting the incoming administration, even though it happened days before the end of Obama’s administration and would take effect after the Trump administration came in. It makes a good headline, whether or not it makes fiscal sense at a time when the FHA is deeply exposed in the subprime loan market. It also sets up a wonderful talking point for Senate Democrat leader, Chuck Schumer:

“It took only an hour after [Trump’s] positive words on the inaugural platform for his actions to ring hollow. One hour after talking about helping working people and ending the cabal in Washington that hurts people, he signs a regulation that makes it more expensive for new homeowners to buy mortgages.”

It’s so disingenuous, after the previous administration raised these rates for years, to pretend to blow a gasket when the new administration suspends a cut that hadn’t even been implemented yet. But it’s so easy to sell to anyone unfamiliar with the FHA and the lending world, especially if you have a visceral hatred of the incoming president.

How often am I being played this way and don’t know it because I have no familiarity or experience in the area being battled over? Let’s each hold our own politicians’ feet to the proverbial fire. Democrats, call out Schumer on this crap. Republicans, do the same to your servants. Because that’s what they are – public servants lying to and misleading their masters, the American people.

Hemingway, Traffic and Christmas

One hour down the interstate on the way to Daddy’s house and I had finally broken free of the traffic around Concord and was hitting highway speeds.  With an early afternoon start and a good book playing, I was anticipating a relaxing weekend.  After the year I’ve had, I was looking forward to a couple of quiet days on the farm.

Just then my wife texted me, “You forgot your dad’s gift.  Did you remember your cousin’s?”

Nope – I forgot that one, too.

As I turned onto the ramp to head back into Charlotte – and into the traffic – I experienced a wave of that impotent anger and self-pity that comes when you face one more thing gone wrong with no one to blame but yourself.

“Really?  This too?  I had to screw this up, too?”

The book I was listening to, The Old Man and the Sea, provided the perfect subtext.  An old, poor marlin fisherman, whose 84-day run of bad luck had cost him his apprentice and companion, hooked a giant marlin in his small skiff far out at sea.  An epic (if largely uneventful) man-against-fish struggle ensued, and the 1,500 pound creature dragged the old man farther and farther out to sea for three days.  The ancient fisherman marshaled his substantial strength and character to sustain him through the ordeal and ultimately killed the 18-foot sailfish, tying it off beside the skiff and setting sail for home, humbly triumphant over his catch of a lifetime, the end of his bad luck and a coming measure of financial security.

Then the sharks ate his marlin.

Excruciatingly, Hemingway dwells on the fisherman’s hopeless attempts to fend off the sharks as, mouthful by mouthful, his magnificent prize is reduced to a head and tail connected by an empty skeleton.  All his skill, experience, character and determination can’t stop it, and he must watch his dream slowly eaten away beside him.  He kills some of the sharks, vainly, and in his struggle with the last one, feels something rupture in his chest and tastes blood, metallic, in his mouth, spitting it defiantly at the retreating shark.  He reaches the shore that night, his body broken and his dream ravaged and hollowed out.

The Preacher nods knowingly, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  This scripture, too, is God-breathed and profitable.

How do I respond as the vanity of all we do under the sun grows more and more apparent?  The grit-your-teeth and work-even-harder determination finally gives out just as you approach the prize in your career, and you watch all you worked for begin to slip away.  A rich friendship is ruined by foolish selfishness.  “In sickness and in health, till death do us part,” turns out to have included small print and when you needed them the most, they were gone.  The hobby that is going to reinvigorate and save your life from descending into self-destruction loses its magic and begins to slip away.  Retirement approaches with more questions and fears than answers.  We always hope, “If only I can find the right man, the right job, the right church, the right house, the right hobby then…”  I’m always on the verge of turning the corner and making it, but at 43, I’m growing suspicious that I’m turning corners in a massive maze with no doors out.

“You’re just in the doldrums!  What about the success stories?”

You mean the one you saw on that television show?  In that movie?  The ones that I keep sending across your Facebook feed or the televangelists keep telling you about?

“No, no.  I mean real ones like your mom and dad’s story!”

I just left Dad sitting alone in his basement, watching football on a new TV his son sent him from Alabama, while I return to Charlotte to go to work and be with my family.  He keeps talking about giving Mom’s cloths away.  He’s been talking about it for two years, but they smell like her…

Even true love ends in pain and loss – especially true love.  This life isn’t designed for lasting joy.

The next morning, the old fisherman’s former apprentice, a boy who loved him dearly but had been forced by his parents to abandon him for another, luckier, fisherman, found him in the hut sleeping face down on his newspaper-lined bed springs.  Though apprenticed to another, the boy had continued to care for and serve the old man, bringing him food, providing him bait and caring for his equipment.  The old man, through his ordeal, had wished again and again that the boy was with him and contemplated how much the boy meant to him.  Weeping over his former master’s line-cut hands, exhaustion and defeat, the boy rushes to care for him and swears to return to his tutelage despite his parents’ wishes.

“Now we fish together again.”

“No. I am not lucky. I am not lucky anymore.”

“The hell with luck,” the boy said. “I’ll bring the luck with me.”

Dear God in heaven, this is what I need.  I need someone to look down on my breaking self, my breaking dreams, even knowing that I am the one who’s done the breaking, and weep over me.  It must be someone who doesn’t share the limitation of my life “under the sun,” yet must be able to visit my hovel and get into my boat with me; someone who isn’t afraid of my bad luck, but can bring his own luck with him.

There is one who claims to do exactly that.  We celebrate the birth of a boy who looked down on our broken lives and hollowed-out dreams and wept.  The Son petitions the Father, “Let me go down and get in the boat with them.  Let me take our luck – grace – to them.”  By all accounts, those who found Him, found lasting joy.

Let’s look for Him, you and I.  If you find Him, send Him my way, or better yet, bring Him over.  I understand that He wasn’t one to turn down a meal with the unlucky.

Why I Grieve For France

Statue of Liberty in Paris

We have a tricky relationship, don’t we – we and the French? To hear us most of the time, you’d think we were adolescent siblings. “Rude, snail-eating, smelly, effeminate, debauched, arrogant French!” “Loud, overweight, can’t-dress, gun-happy, prudish, ignorant Americans!” Strange, isn’t it, that it was the French who declared after 9/11, “Today, we are all Americans.” Odd that the French flag can be found all over our pages on social media in America after the 11/13/15 Paris attacks.

And it’s almost as though we Americans don’t understand the empathy we feel for the tragedy in Paris. It reminds me of the awkward solidarity my two middle sons share on those occasions when one is really hurting. Most of their lives each has considered the other their arch-nemesis, but when the chips are down, something rises up that overrides the jealousies and offenses of the past. They can’t put their finger on it yet, and they would be horrified if mom and dad made them express the sentiment openly.

It’s going to be suggested that our grief for the French isn’t egalitarian enough, that we should be feeling the same pain for tragedies wherever they are happening. (Where’s the Iraqi flag, the Syrian flag, the Palestinian flag on our posts?) We shouldn’t be ashamed of our feelings, though, because there are very good reasons for them.

America’s first and oldest ally is France. In our revolution against the powerful British Empire, we needed aid, and the French were there. In 1778 they allied themselves with us and declared war on Britain, sending money, supplies, an army and a navy to our nation. Even before their formal entry into our war, French citizens had sailed to America and volunteered in the Continental Army. French blood was mingled with ours on American soil at the birth of our nation.

Six years after the ratification (in Paris) of America’s independence from England, the French National Assembly published the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” the foundational document of the French Revolution. It was drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette, one of the French volunteers in the American Revolution, with help from his good friend, Thomas Jefferson. It was modelled after our own Declaration of Independence and looked to the same philosophers to help articulate its truths.

In the 1860’s, as the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached, the French decided they should participate in the celebration. So they conceived, commissioned and financed the Statue of Liberty. It was crafted in Paris and stands in New York Harbor, America’s most iconic emblem – a gift of the French people.

On D Day, 73,000 Americans landed on Normandy beaches to liberate France from Nazi Germany. On that one day alone, 6,600 soldiers of our Greatest Generation spilled their blood on French soil for French freedom. The French never forgot that sacrifice – to this day they receive American visitors along the coast with welcome, and our veterans with veneration. Monuments and memorials stand throughout France dedicated by the French people to the American and allied forces who liberated them. Thousands of American graves there continue to be maintained and honored by the French.

In 2011, 67 years after D Day, Thom Cartledge of Massachusetts was finally able to visit the grave of his uncle in the American cemetery at Normandy. As he planted small French and American flags by the grave, his guide, a young French girl, used a bucket of sand and a damp sponge to scrub the white cross clean. He asked her how long he could stay there and was stunned by her answer: “Your uncle gave his life so that we can be free. You can stay as long as you want.”

France is the brother in your family that joined a different political party. You fought and bickered growing up and no one can stand to be in the same room with you when you argue at Christmas. But when tragedy strikes, you don’t remember the time he hit you, stole your girlfriend or made fun of your haircut. You remember the common blood and core values that you share. What other people have, for one another’s freedom, shed more blood on our soil, and have received more of our blood on theirs? That’s why their pain today is ours.