I have a sister who is very wise, wiser than her years, perhaps. She’s younger than me, but knows a lot when it comes to common sense.
In her wisdom, she only makes suggestions about two things. The first is to remind me to bring non-dairy creamer to our monthly breakfast since our favorite spot doesn’t offer it. With my dairy allergy, I try to avoid milk when possible.
The second thing is she cautions me not to run with scissors.
I remember to bring the non-dairy creamer about half the time. I tend to run with scissors much more often.
An example of this is when I asked Dr. K if I could write a blog post about politics. He cringed and said, “I think it would be better if you wrote about dogs.”
Instead, I told him I would write about fireflies. He thought fireflies were a safe topic, but I explained it’s running with scissors of a different sort.
The idea came to me when my sister texted me the morning of our monthly breakfast date.
M: Did you leave me a voicemail message on my home number??? The message sounded kind of like you but I couldn’t understand a word of it.
E: I didn’t. Was it asking for a ransom because I’d been kidnapped, or was it begging you to buy health insurance because the world is going to hell in a hand basket?
What’s imperative to understand about this interchange is this: my sister never texts. She hardly ever turns on her cellphone. But the world today has rattled even her enough to double check on me.
I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of phone calls these days I ignore. They’re from unrecognizable numbers and they’re from area codes all over the country. Cincinnati, Palo Alto, Saint Petersburg (Florida, not Russia) and Atlanta — all from places where I don’t know anyone, and if I did they’d most likely message me on Facebook or have my email. They are strangers calling from a strange land.
Sometimes I listen to the pleas, the insistent requests to call about what is soon to be lost, but most of the time I don’t accept the call. Instead, I watch and worry about a political landscape where people cannot talk with each other about how to govern our country, to share concerns, to address our differences in a rational manner without being offensive. We live in a country where people are arrested for speaking out and speaking up.
I also know it’s impolite to talk about politics and religion; I’ve had friends and family hemorrhage from my life over these topics — and yet, a recent visit to Philadelphia illuminated the situation in which our country now finds itself, in the most microscopic of ways.
I decided I could run with scissors because of the fireflies.
You should know that I’m a historian, more than anything else. At registration in college — and this was back in the days where you had to show up and register in person the week before classes began — my plan had been to major in Psychology. That plan backfired when I learned Psych 101 was already full. What to do next?
I decided then and there on the cold concrete floor of Folsom Field House at the University of Colorado that I would follow my next love — history, although the study of the intricate workings and oddities of the human mind has never been far off.
As a historian, Philadelphia is for me like The Mall of America is to a shopaholic. We arrived and immediately set out to explore the one square mile of near-sacred land that carries more historical significance than any other mile anywhere.
We wandered the streets and popped in to see Congress Hall, Carpenters Hall, Old City Hall and the Second Bank of the U.S. There was Declaration House, Franklin Court — Ben Franklin’s hangout, with his very own museum to house some of his inventions — and the Betsy Ross House. Standing in line to see the Liberty Bell was the most time-consuming; it ate up nearly 30 minutes of tourism. And Independence Hall — the place where a handful of traitors declared their independence from a tyrannical King who happened to be the most powerful man in the world at the time — and also housing the room where the greatest Democratic experiment in the history of the world, the United States Constitution, was drafted — a tour of that required a $1 ticket. The wait-time was again, 30 minutes.
In between all of the E-Rides, there were nooks and crannies to explore. The most expensive viewing opportunity in town was the sparkling new Museum of the American Revolution. At $19 a pop, I wondered at what marvels it might hold but we bought tickets nonetheless.
In a darkened auditorium, a movie was shown entitled, “Washington’s War Tent.” The film told the story of the American Revolution, the difficulties endured by the Continental Army, the suffering of those left at home to tend farms and town businesses. And the overarching worry that loved ones would be strung up as traitors to King and Country.
Then the screen rolled away to reveal a canvas field tent.
Stark in its simplicity, we learned how, as General Washington, our country’s first President spent the war years with his troops, from 1778-1783 sleeping and planning tactical maneuvers protected by its canvas walls. The tent is often called the First Oval Office.
It was this simplicity which most struck me about the buildings where the Founding Fathers dreamed up a New World based on freedom. No one was too grand to talk to anyone else; farmers, planters and businessmen strove together with a common purpose. They represented different life and business philosophies, and the taint of slavery hung over all their heads, an ugliness no one was willing to address at face value, instead passing the problem down to future generations.
All were traitors to the King and English Parliament, and yet they risked their personal freedoms, working inside these small, spare buildings furnished with hard wooden chairs. There was no gilding or jewels; the work spaces served a purpose to discuss and write their intentions, and that was all.
We walked in their footsteps each night after dinner along the cobblestone streets. The historic places and homes are lit by modern means, but in the verdant, brick-walled parks the flickering of fireflies welcomed us. It was only a few days until the Fourth of July, when, 241 years ago, steps for independence were taken. Perhaps this is why in the darkened parks we felt the breath of these early Americans on our cheeks, as if somehow they strode silently with us.
In the parks, fireflies danced in luminescence, their bodies creating light from a chemical reaction, balancing science and magic.
Most strikingly, there are no fences within that square mile of American history save a low gate stretching across the entrance to Independence Hall. A few National Park Rangers stand guard, reserved and subtle, but they smile more than the guards at Buckingham Palace. Visitors traverse the area around the buildings without boundaries, exploring, touching brick and wooden walls, encountering the same sensations — and most likely, fireflies — as did those people who walked the same cobblestones over two hundred years ago.
It’s this simple openness that is remarkable about these near sacred grounds in central Philadelphia. It sends a message to the world. Given their significance, it’s notable how small the buildings are. In their simplicity, processes were established, creating an enormous test of whether government can be created by the people, for the people.
And in the openness of the walkways, there was an unspoken message that the intentions of our visionaries will endure.
That too, is common sense.
Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.
Interested in reading Emily’s new award-winning novel, Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage? Find it on Amazon and in Indie bookstores.
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