I know the 4th of July is well past. Over. Caput, as they say. Early on I'd wanted to write about maybe the parade, a barbecue, fireworks, face-painting possibly. While those are all fun topics, they left me wanting. Maybe it's my age. Or the era. Or, or, or. Something else kept coming up. Yes, the idea of freedom. Yes, that's it; freedom's value doesn't end on the 5th of July. It remains a very potent part of our lives yet so incredibly, incredibly easy to take for granted when we've folded up the tables or cleaned up after the parade.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending my friend's granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah. It was no ordinary event, in part, because my friend, Bennet, is a holocaust survivor. He also had been an opera student in Munich after surviving multiple concentration camps during WW II. He went on to become a cantor, a singer of Jewish prayers, and at the age of 88, sang for his granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah. His voice stunned me, it's beauty elevating the room.
Bennet told me several times while we worked on his memoir together, how he'd always wanted to come to the United States. To do that, he walked away from the opportunity to do what expresses what's in his heart best, and that is to sing opera. He left a full scholarship at the Academy of Music in Munich.
To hear him sing at the Bat Mitzvah, why.....he was astonishing, really. It became apparent that Bennet sings to men and the angels. He knows not where it comes from; it is enough for him to know that it comes. At times during the service I found myself holding my breath, rising along with the notes, up and up, then releasing it as he hit a high note, a woman gasping across the room along with my silent expulsion of air.
About a week later, Bennet shared a tape of his singing with his opera teacher in New York in the 1950's. He was unable to continue lessons for long, due to lack of financial resources at that time. Instead, he became a cantor because as we all know, songbirds cannot be silenced. While watching his face as we listened to him sing La traviata, I noticed his eyes, how much brighter they were, and how peaceful he became, serene even. And it came to me: Bennet liberates himself repeatedly each time he sings. His freedom comes through his throat. His understanding of that freedom is profound and personal. He knows first hand what not being free means. And so it was that Bennet found a way to sing even if not in the career he would have preferred. And he found more opportunity than he could have ever imagined in his adopted homeland: America.
Bennet claims he is a simple man and while I beg to differ with him on many things, on this point I agree; there is no place on the earth as free as America. No constitution as rich with promise, nor reverence for it as great.
So I'll take the hotdogs, the parades, the fireworks and of course I'll always value them, enjoying every inch of pleasure they have to offer. But make no mistake, the freedom we have in America has a volume, a perfect pitch, a crescendo all it's own. Our freedom hits the center of the note, gliding skyward for each of us. It is hummed by every veteran, every immigrant and natural born citizen alike, every gender, race, and creed, wordlessly. And I remain so very grateful.
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