Making the Dream Real

The 4th of July. A national holiday…holy day, celebrating the birth of this country. My country…

‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,

of thee I sing;

land where my fathers died,

land of the pilgrim’s pride,

from every mountain side, let freedom ring.[1]

I don’t know fully what Samuel Francis Smith was thinking when he composed these words. For the words of another, whose mind and heart I cannot know completely, always necessarily mean more than my interpretation. Nevertheless, the truth of a text, the wisdom of a word lies not only in the author’s meaning, but also in my understanding.

And I sing, “My country, ‘tis of thee”, bittersweetly. For freedom’s dream is not yet realized.

Langston Hughes wrote:

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be…

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real,

and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe…[2]

I don’t know fully what Hughes was thinking when he penned these words. However, as I interpret him, he speaks lovingly and longingly of a past day when he wishes the American ideal had been reached; yet also angrily, for the dream remains unrealized.

Hughes’s poem is a stern polemic, arguing that nostalgia for a past golden age is naïve idealization. Yet this is more than bitter diatribe. It is a call to action to make real the dream.

Hughes’s audience? The disenfranchised of his day: “the poor white…the Negro…the red man…the immigrant,” and later, “the farmer” and “the worker.” Hughes, calling all to fulfill America’s promise, dares to speak for all: “I swear this oath – America will be!”

Through the lenses of song and poetry, I behold an America not fully free. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., if any one is not free, then none are free. And if I take seriously the poet’s cry, then I am bidden to help make real the dream.

How? In the words of a favorite hymn:

I know not where the road will lead, I follow day by day,

or where it ends: I only know I walk the King’s highway[3]

As a follower of Jesus, I embrace his life and ministry of unconditional love and justice for others. All others. Even those with whom I disagree; speaking my truth with integrity and listening, respecting their human dignity. Am I always successful? No. Nevertheless, I strive to be faithful. And, in this, always praying that on some future Independence Day I can sing, not bittersweetly, but rather with the gratitude of having joined my hand in labor with countless others to bring the ideal to greater light:

Let music swell the breeze

and ring from all the trees

sweet freedom’s song;

let mortal tongues awake,

let all that breathe partake,

let rocks their silence break,

the sound prolong.

© 2022 PRA

#theAmericandream #livingandlaboringtomakethedreamreal

[1] From America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) (1831); words by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895)

[2] From Let America Be America Again (1935); word by James Mercer Langston Hughes (1901-1967)

[3] Words (1922) by Evelyn Atwater Cummins (1891-1971)

2 thoughts on “Making the Dream Real

  1. Thank you, Paul. Your words, and your offering of the words of those other visionaries Samuel Smith and Langston Hughes, are important to me today as I seek to muster some foundation for celebration of our nation’s founding in this year 2022. I just read Heather Cox Richardson’s letter for today, which also helped me gain some perspective. I’m not sure whether you are a Cox Richardson reader or not, but I commend her daily writings to you as trustworthy grounding in historical perspective.

    As I listened to the fireworks in our neighborhood last night as I was getting ready for bed, I had a number of thoughts. One was that hearing what sounded like gunshots so nearby in my “safe” suburban neighborhood (which Ted and I have decided to leave for the inner city in the fall) constituted a sad, cruel, and thoughtless irony in the age of a constant fusillade of real, killing gunshots all across our hurting land every single day. Another was my perception of the incongruity of festivity in the form of fireworks, parades, barbecues, etc. on this Fourth of July. This Fourth seems far more fitted to pilgrimages to the most sacred tombs of our past to think on whether they still carry any meaning for the future and for standing quietly upon our purple mountains or beside our shining seas to take on the soul-deep, agonizing work of envisioning how we make the proposition that “All men [which I read as “humankind”] are created equal” mean what we in our best hours have learned it means, and STILL somewhere in the deepest, most alienated regions of our hearts, know it means. To echo G. K. Chesterton on Christianity, I think we know that the ideal of equality of all people has not been tried and found wanting; it has been only meekly and half-heartedly approached and found to be very, very difficult for minds fixed almost solely on economic and political victory and power and pathologically extreme individualism.

    I cannot say “Happy Fourth of July” this year, for there is in this land, at least to my perception, very little happiness and even less joy. This is a season for deeper, darker celebrations – for something in the nature of ritual that can lead us finally to perceive the underlying oneness of all people, all creatures, all substance, i.e., our very planet, whether our petty, self-absorbed, everyday minds can grasp and own that unity or not.

    I believe we will not and cannot survive for long as a country or as a planet unless we, the members that make up humankind, develop the courage and wisdom to make the courageous leap to accept our deep and unequivocal interdependence, a relationship that demands recognition of the dignity, the worth, the unique value of every element and every being. And that leap, I believe, will lead us at last to understanding what Love is and what Love, since the very beginning of time. has been faithfully leading us toward.

    My gratitude, Paul, and, as always, much love,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear Karen, in our resistance to the historical, cultural call (clamor?) to celebrate, we, again, prove ourselves to be most kindred spirits.

      Moreover, your words — “…I believe we will not and cannot survive for long as a country…” — struck an immediate and, until that moment of resonance, an unexpected chord. For I was given to recall the observation of the late Sir John Bagot Glubb, English soldier and scholar, that the lifespan of an empire is approximately 250 years. And that death of the empire comes, largely, as an external consequence of the internal thirst and reach for power (thus, abandoning the proper bounds of its self and relation to the rest of the world). I would add that the empire’s desire to self-preserve (almost by necessity) reduces (also necessarily, I think) its capacity to adapt to an ever-changing world and increases its tendency to lose sight of its founding principles (which, generally and in the main are grounded in grand virtues — benevolence, equality, liberty, etc.). Today, America commemorates the 246th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence. Thus, 2026 will mark our 250th year. Let us pray for the wisdom to evade — via the righteous path of your vision of Love — Sir John Bagot Glubb’s predictive assessment.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close