America in action

Published 7:39 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If someone from another country in the world or even outer space showed up on my doorstep and asked “give me a picture of what is so great about America,” I would hope that they would show up on the Friday morning that the volunteers of the Mount Pleasant Fire Department began their efforts to host their annual barbecue. They would see the greatness of America in action.

Many in this country might disagree. Some might say, “take ‘em to Wall Street” where the billions and billions of American dollars change hands and fortunes are made and lost every day. Those people would say that the greatness of America is found in its tremendous material wealth and the opportunities it presents.

Another might say, “take ‘em to Washington” where the government of the people, by the people and for the people has its center. Despite the dearth of respect for our nation’s capital and its governmental operatives, there are many who would point to our political institutions as America’s grandest symbol.

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Still, others might say, “take ‘em to Niagara Falls or Yosemite or Mount McKinley and the Alaskan frontier or any of the hundreds of beautiful natural resources that prove this country’s magnificence from sea to shining sea.

Where would you look for the greatness of America?

Alexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who came to America in the middle of the 19th century looking for the qualities that made a young America great. At that time, a long time ago, he felt that the secret to America’s greatness lay in her “goodness.” We might compare America, at that time, as a very innocent adolescent with enormous potential.

America is not so innocent anymore and much of her potential has been attained. Regardless of plenty of naysayers, America is a great country. Like de Tocqueville, I don’t think that greatness lies in our military or economic power, or in the political freedoms we have and continue to enjoy, or in the aforementioned natural beauty, but in the hard work of common, everyday people. People like the Mount Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department and other organizations like that.

In the early Friday morning frost, the volunteers, most of them the farmers of the community, gathered to put the Boston butts on the cookers and begin the task of barbecuing nearly 900 pounds of meat and making all the other side dishes that go with the traditional fund-raising plate. With tongue in cheek, I’m surprised they got anything done.

For instance, there was no Democrat or Republican politician there to give them a speech as to just how it is done. There was no vote taken to decide who would take the meat off the truck and who would put it on the cooker. There was no 2,000-page bill for the purpose of explaining all the particulars of the two-day event.

Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer or Katie Couric had not brought their cameras and microphones to interview anyone who might be opposed to the actions of the volunteers. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) weren’t there to protect the butts. The ACLU … well, you get my drift.

The fact is that the event went off without a hitch. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood, despite the cold and wet winter that had put most of the farmers a little behind schedule with their preparations for another uncertain year. If a challenging economy has just recently brought uncertainty to your part of the world, it might be a good thing to hang out around a few of these hard-working volunteers.

I have no idea or any desire to know about any of these folk’s personal businesses, but I don’t think any of them would be mistaken for Rollo the Rich Kid. But they’re not complaining. Instead, they are taking a few days to make sure that this organization that is good for their community is on solid ground. They are giving back to a community that has been and continues to be theirs.

There are many lessons for us all in this task. First of all, there is something for everyone to do and everyone does their part. Men and women, young and old join hands. There’s inside work and outside work. While some are cooking outside, there are those who are inside shredding the cabbage and carrots. Some do the paperwork while others do the hands-on work.

Another lesson is the one that daddies and mommas teach their children through an event like this. The youth and children have to go to school on Friday, but later in the day and on Saturday, sons and daughters begin to show up; anxious to be a part of these days of fun and fellowship. I have been coming for many years and it is gratifying to see some of the sons and daughters who, just a few years ago, were too small to work, are now helping in very substantial ways.

A third lesson is that, if you want something good to happen, work for it. Events like the Mount Pleasant VFD barbecue just don’t fall out of the sky. It takes the sacrifice of time and effort, but not of just one or two people. It takes the whole community and lots of people extending their hands to work. It might be simplistic to say, but these days we have too many people who are just extending their hands wanting something to happen, but not really wanting to work.

What makes America great?

De Tocqueville said it was our “goodness.” He said that he saw that “goodness” in our churches and I think he meant in our faith and willingness to work hard in that faith. Here is his exact quote: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

America might be shaky at times and in some places, but not in those places where common, everyday, hard-working people still believe in a sense of community.