Published: December 28th 2007October 31st 2007
This is a response I wrote to a middle school student who wrote me as part of a school project. Her project was to write a letter to a person whom she felt was an example of a good citizen. In her letter she asked me to give her my definition of citizenship. After I wrote this I realized that I should have just pointed her to Teddy Roosevelt's speech "Citizenship in a Republic," which is much more eloquent and thorough, but this is what came from the heart.
Dear Miss S...,
Thank you for your kind correspondence of September 17. I am honored that you chose to write me and am challenged to live of the the weight of your respect. Thank you for your kind words.
You asked me to give you my definition of citizenship. Citizenship is dirt and pain and sacrifice. Citizen is blood and sweat and tears. Citizenship is money and time and effort. Citizenship is many things, but there is one thing that citizenship most certainly is not. Citizenship is not free, but citizenship is freely given. You can't earn it. You receive it, and then you must chose to either exploit it or perpetuate it.
There are soldiers here who have lost their lives. There are soldiers here who, like me, have lost their friends horribly. There are men, woman and children back home who will never again see their husband, wife, father, or mother. There are soldiers whose spouses have abandoned them. There are soldiers who leave here alive but not whole. There are soldiers here that leave physically whole but mentally wounded.
Their blood is the ransom of your freedom. The tears of bereaved widows water the garden in which your citizenship will grow. Take the fruit of that plant and eat heartily, then pass it on. Give it back. Serve your brothers and sisters and children. Serve in the military. Teach the next generation. Feed the hungry. Encourage the brokenhearted. Many of these things you can do now. Live a life dedicated to making the lives of others better.
What is citizenship?
Citizenship is the freedom to be selfish and the responsibility to be selfless.