Watching the videos of the hordes of people protesting in Venezuela, braving water cannons and rubber bullets, risking death or imprisonment for speaking out against a repressive government, the rallying cry comes back to me again and again: Freedom isn’t free.
I’ve learned to see the world through the eyes of an immigrant, a man from Venezuela, my husband of 31 years, who has taught me and our children the great gift that we have to live in a country where the rule of law is respected, where freedom of expression is protected, where hard work pays off and no one watches their child die of malnutrition or starvation. A trip to the grocery store in the U.S. doesn’t involve hours of standing in line only to come away empty-handed. The pharmacy has the medicine you need and things like toothpaste and toilet paper aren’t sold on the black market.
For most of us, the upheaval on another continent is just a news story, a blurb we push to the outer margins of our consciousness. We’ve got other priorities.
Do we ever stop to think about the men and women who protect our freedoms, the ones who put their lives on the line and who have, in thousands of cases, paid the price in blood? If it’s more than just a passing thought, perhaps it’s because you have a loved one in the military or you yourself have served.
With a beloved nephew serving in the armed forces, my stomach twists each time I hear of casualties. Is he safe? Will we get that Facebook message assuring us he’s fine or will there be a dreaded phone call?
Six weeks ago, one of my sons packed his rucksack and headed back to complete the U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School. It’s a grueling program that tests the limits of candidates’ physical and mental strength. For the first three weeks, we had no contact, save a form letter. These young men and women get very little sleep, slog through swamps, march through the mud loaded down with equipment, conquer formidable obstacle courses and learn to carry their fellow candidates to safety. They also spend hours and hours in challenging classes where they learn tactics, Marine Corps history and land navigation.
One of the first things drilled into them is to never, ever use the word “I.” Instead, if they must speak of themselves (and that is not encouraged) it’s “Sir, this candidate ….” On Thursday evenings, they get one hour during which they may either attend a religious service or mark gear. My son opts for a quiet Mass celebrated by a priest who knows what these candidates are up against. “It’s the one hour where no one yells at you,” my son jokes. He keeps a laminated holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus amidst his sparse belongings to remind him of all Christ suffered to set us free from sin and death.
I see in this son of mine a quiet determination to be a man who will defend the weak and the widow, who will face danger because it’s the right thing to do. He’s heard his father’s stories; he knows what freedom means. I’m scared and I’m proud all at once, because I know he has become a man who will stand against thuggish forces like those we’re seeing in Venezuela, dictators who crush freedom and squelch dissent, who rule with an iron fist and thirst for more and more power. We will have none of that here in the U.S., simply because there are those among us who will risk their lives to prevent it.
As we send our children back to school this year, let us remind them that God created the human person to be free. Let us instill in them a love of history, of learning the price that has been paid for our freedom. Let us teach them to cherish that freedom and give thanks to God for those willing to defend it at great personal cost.
Freedom isn’t free.