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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002 /29 Elul, 5762

Tom Purcell

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The Freedom to Picnic | When I was visiting family and friends in Pittsburgh last weekend, I remembered again how lucky I am to live in America.

You see, the Sunday after last year's attack, I enjoyed one of the best sermons I've ever heard. Father McBreardy reminded us how tragedy has a way of reducing us to our most basic selves. It helps us to sort out all the things that really matter from those that don't matter much at all. It helps us to truly understand our blessings. I was reminded of my blessings while visiting Pittsburgh last week.

Shortly after I arrived on Saturday afternoon, I briefly joined my parents and their neighbors at a block party. The block party is a fine invention. The streets were blocked off, allowing kids to play. An abundance of food and drink is set out. And parents, friends and families mingle freely.

There was a range of interesting people at this party. Some were married with kids, others single. Some mothers chose to work, others chose to stay home. Some people worked long hours, others were retired. Some went to church regularly, others not at all. But regardless of their different backgrounds, they were enjoying the company of their neighbors.

Later in the evening, I spent a few hours at a similar party at the home of an old high school friend. While I enjoyed a delicious pork sandwich, homegrown tomatoes and fresh hot coffee, I became engaged in a variety of interesting conversations that touched on religion, politics, business, family and how things were in the old days.

Prior to 911, I never thought too deeply about such gatherings. I'd never reflected on how unique they actually are and how blessed every American is to be able to so freely enjoy them. This is because I took for granted the basic premise upon which America was founded: our freedom.

We Americans have always been free to do as we please. We are free to buy and sell property. Free to start our own business or shut it down. Free to create, innovate and invent. (We're also free to quit our jobs, eat too much and lay around all day watching talk television.)

And because of our freedom, our economic engine, even in times of recession, has become the envy of the world. It has created tremendous opportunities and choices for parents who want to work hard and provide well for their families - allowing families to celebrate their good fortune during their neighborhood picnics.

We also enjoy freedom of speech, thought and religion, which most countries do not. While I was enjoying the differing points of view on religion, politics, business and family, I was aware that millions of people live in countries where such subjects are not discussed freely at all.

Could you imagine trying to have a picnic if your government was run by the Taliban? These fanatical Islam fellows did not believe in the separation of church and state, so you'd get into a heap of trouble if you introduced any religious ideas contrary to theirs.

Women wouldn't be allowed to talk about their jobs, either, because the Taliban forbade them from working or from having rights of any kind. If you were a woman under Taliban rule, you wouldn't even have the right to show your face in public, and if you did you'd be beaten or worse.

And if one of your children got caught doing some mischief on Devil's Night, you wouldn't be telling your neighbors about your visit before the justice of the peace. No, the Taliban doesn't believe in the presumption of innocence for anyone they deem guilty. Heaven only knows what they might do to your kid.

America is surely not a perfect country - we've got our share of problems here - but I grow tired of the folks who are eager to find so many faults with us. All you need to do to really understand who we are is to look at the basic values upon which we function. The most basic of those is our belief in freedom.

And if you really want to see freedom manifested here on a daily basis, join me at the next neighborhood picnic. I'll be among a group of friendly, cheerful people, and we'll be talking about anything we darn well please.

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08/16/02: Ah, the $izzle of anti-terrorist pork
08/09/02: Vacationless prez and gutless Americans
07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
07/15/02: Patriot food
06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
06/21/02: The crowded skies
06/14/02: Contemporary Father's Day: A conversation for the ages
06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
05/19/02: Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money
05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell