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The Statesman
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July 2013

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To Found a Nation

By Emily Black

It should have been a pristine forest glade.  Instead, I sat on the jutting edge of a tree that had just recently fallen to the ground, for its roots no longer had the life or strength to stand.  Immediately to my right, across the path, was a blackened pillar that had once been a tree.  Ten yards in front of me was another tube of charcoal, stretched to its length along the ground.  The whole glade was like this.  Occasionally an evergreen shrouded enough life in its darkened bark to allow a smattering of greenery along its top, but that was the exception to the rule. 

Absolute meaninglessness.  I felt it, at least, and my surroundings seemed to agree.  Always before, the passion to prove myself had prevented this kind of emptiness.  I had been too busy with agony to be empty.  Now, blessedly, the immediate pain had abated, leaving me with a different kind of suffering, wondering what exactly I was doing with myself.  I had no real demands on my time, no definite plans for the future, no people vying for my attention, no personal thundercloud driving my ambition by constantly threatening a stormy lightening bolt or revealing rain.  I was also beginning to see that all those plans I had made, the reasons I thought I was here in this forest at this time, were yet another attempt to substitute a shadow for substance.  Well, one must be willing to be perfectly empty before one is ready to be filled.

Directly in front of me, on the near side of the sprawling charcoal, was a tiny sapling, eight inches tall at most.  Sitting on my stump, I stared at the bit of new life, hoping to see in its delicate branches the answers I so desperately needed from the Maker of us both.  “What is my purpose?  What am I doing here?” and especially, “Why must I go through so much pain?” 

“To grow.”  Of course that was the answer.  “Sometimes it is painful.  The sapling must break its bed and bark to stretch toward the sunlight, just as you must completely lose your false self to find a new.”  In the approaching dusk, the forest suddenly seemed a little less foreign, a little less repulsive to my beauty-loving eyes.  Yet, still there was the memory of past pain and its continuing effects in my life.    The questions burned vividly and with wonder because so much of what I was going through was the result of other people’s actions.  I knew very well that I had often fallen short, but I also could not deny that my predecessor’s weakness and ignorance, in addition to a definite measure of willful evil and self-indulgence at my expense, had caused me tremendous suffering that I would not have chosen for myself and that I did not know how to escape.  Was it a necessary for my growth to endure all this as a result of their mistakes?

I had considered this question often.  This time, however, instead of ignoring or resisting the pain, I accepted and truly felt it.  I had nothing left to defend anyway.   What was no longer a personal thundercloud turned out to be a cloud of healing rain, and like all gentle rain, the tears cleansed and provided clarity.   I felt a great, great sorrow that there must be such pain in the world, but it was the kind of mourning that heals and releases.  I felt the pain they had caused me, and suffered through it, not to spite them, but for them.  I was no longer crying just for me, but for them as well.  A remarkable thing happened.   I found myself deeply feeling the kind of pain they must have been going through to have done the things they did.  I cried for their pain, and for the people who had hurt them as well.  I cried for the collective agony of generations; enduring, fully experiencing, and finally releasing it all, one at a time.  A long chain of suffering was being broken by me, simply because I was willing to face and feel it all and give it to the One who could really bear it.

Then, my mind shifted and I began to cry for my own mistakes.  I cried harder and harder for the pain I caused people in my own life because I had not always followed that sure voice in my heart.  I thought of the misery I had caused the people waiting for me through the trees, my family back at home, those I had grown up with; the list seemed endless.  I felt what someone has described as the torture of the afterlife – to experience yourself what your actions had caused in the lives of those around you.   Except, for me it was not a torture, but a release.  Even though I was experiencing the pain myself, it was flowing through me and out into a better and more perfect receptacle.

Finally, after what seemed many lifetimes, it stopped.  I took a few shuddering breaths, and then had the distinct words come to my mind: “That is what it takes to found a nation.  That kind of willingness to bear the pain of our own and other’s mistakes, those for generations, and especially those which are not our fault, is what it took to create the Constitution of the United States and to lay the foundation for a people.  That is what it will take again.” 


For too long, America has been unwilling to face her suffering.  A return to freedom will require that today’s youth endure a day of reckoning that has been put off for generations.  It is not their fault, yet they will be required to bear it, to go through the full measure of what those before them were not willing to take.  That is, they can choose to embrace it and come out triumphant, or they can choose to pass down to the next generation an ever darkening layer of pain and dehumanization. 

The good news is that freedom is possible in one generation.  I know it, for I have experienced it.  However, it requires more than the political correctness of the past half-dozen decades would allow.  A people, like an individual, must have an Advocate to turn their suffering from a downward spiral of denial and blame into healing.   For Americans, “In God we Trust” is more than an empty slogan.  It is the answer we are so desperately seeking; for only a trust in God’s goodness will give America’s youth the courage they will need to suffer for the sake of freedom.   Only God can turn so much pain into a glorious victory.

That day in the forest, I learned the price that must be paid for that most Celestial article, freedom.  Sometimes, a forest ravaged by fire appears inhospitable and deserted, but it, like all else in creation, is a place of beauty and growth if one just has eyes to see and the will to endure, like a very small tree.  

Emily Black is a senior at George Wythe University.