Sunday, July 05, 2009


Fourth of July - 4OJ.

It's a time to celebrate being an American. I have been away from home on the 4OJ for nearly twenty years...what does it mean to me?

It's tough, since often I don't agree with the things my country does. It was especially hard since Reagan, and somehow feels like it's getting harder.

Despite that, I believe desperately in what America stands for.For example the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

"give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me..."

America has been a place where you could start over; where you could be reborn in freedom, with a new life, a new name, and a new home - free to be whoever your hard work and determination allow you to become. This is just as my grandfather did from Russia in the early 1900s, and countless others like him. It is comforting to know that such a place exists. It is the hope of many people to start over by coming to America.

Fourth of July is a time to signify other new beginnings. We celebrate our independence from England, won with the blood of our forefathers. This was a country newly formed, different from any nation the world had ever known. A nation destined to leave its mark on history. And it has.

We celebrate heroes today. My brother Tim Akins being one. My brother grew up in Chicago, as I did, and went to serve our country in Vietnam in the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. He returned to us and rarely spoke of what happened there or the price he paid for our leaders' decisions. He went on to became and accountant and served the community as an executive member of an elementary school district. He raised 3 daughters, who are all married or soon to be, and with new families of their own who would have been his grandchildren.

He was more than a brother to me; he was like the father I wish I had. He was a man who was humble, and yet never backed away from what was just or right. He kept mostly to himself, but was a gentle and devoted husband and father. He was a man of so many skills and interests that over the years I learned to never be surprised by the "hobby of the week" which he would inevitably master and show me as if to say "have you tried this yet?". He was just as quick with a laugh as he was with a bit of good advice, and he shouldered his responsibilities like a Marine, never failing his duty to anyone and always ready when you needed him.

My brother died getting up and getting ready for work...just had a heart attack and that was that. He was buried with military honors as was fitting for the hero he was. More than 300 people came to his wake, most of whom approached me and told me what a difference Tim had made in their lives. So many peoples' lives changed by this one great man.

My brother was a hero because he stood tall when the time required it, but never made more of that than what it was. His courage was an everyday courage, the kind that makes you do the right thing, even when it isn't always the most convenient. He loved his wife and his family with his whole heart, but never failed to find time to pursue his many interests; never losing his fascination with being alive. His greatest lesson, in dying, reminded me to make every single day count and "get busy living, or get busy dying."

How many peoples' lives are changed by us, every day, often without our knowing it?
What will people say at our funerals when the time comes?
Can all of us really be heroes every day, in what we say and do?

The Fourth of July is one of the many special times I choose to celebrate heroes, and he is my favorite. I miss you, Tim.

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