Jackie Gingrich Cushman

As we get older, birthdays change from pure celebrations of life to a chance to reflect on the past and plan for the future. My husband’s grandmother (Granny) turned 90 last week. All of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren (21 in all) joined her for a celebratory weekend at her home in South Georgia.

Granny is an amazing woman. She begins each day with exercises, reads the local paper, and the New York Times on weekends, attends book clubs, bridge clubs and reads the Economist weekly. I often joke that I have to brush up on current events before visiting her, but it is no joke.

Granny is the first to tell you that maintaining her good health and intellectual abilities takes work and effort, every day. Contrast this with others who might have determined it is too much effort to get up and exercise every day, the papers are too long to read and community activity too demanding to participate in.

As Americans, we need to remember that, in order to maintain our nation’s intellectual and physical health, we need an active and involved citizenry. Just like any organism, without movement and growth we will stagnate and wither. Understanding what Americanism is provides a framework within which we can stretch, grow and move.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, once stated, “We want to make our children feel that the mere fact of being Americans makes them better off….. This is not to blind us at all to our own shortcomings; we ought steadily to try to correct them; but we have absolutely no grounds to work on if we don’t have a firm and ardent Americanism at the bottom of everything.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger echoed the sentiment. “I believe with all my heart that America remains ‘the greatest idea’ that inspires the world. It is a privilege to be born here. It is an honor to become a citizen here. It is a gift to raise your family here, to vote here and to live here.”

I totally agree. It is important for the children of our nation to understand why America is different.

Possibly the Declaration says it best:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..”

Wow – what am amazing concept. Take some time in the next week to reread it, think about it not only from today’s perspective, but also from how it might have been viewed when written.

It’s impossible to tell where our nation is on its growth path. We can only see where our country has been, and then dream of where we together as Americans might take it. We are blessed to be in the freest, most prosperous nation in history. With this blessing comes a responsibility, to pass along to our children and our grandchildren a free, prosperous, country in which they can pursue their own life, liberty and happiness.

As I was leaving the National Archives yesterday, I read an inscription on a statue facing the mall: “The Heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.” This is so true.

Let us as parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends teach and remind our children of the heritage of our nation’s past so that their future might be even brighter than ours.

God bless the USA.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.