Where freedom still lives
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The Spectator
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Bill Barth
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Having just returned from a terrific trip to the Boston area, one might think I would be refreshed and recharged and eager to dive once again into the rigors of the workplace.
   Well. No.
   A fellow could develop a taste for not working, I discovered, which may be a new and important skill for an ink-stained newspaperman in today’s reading-phobic world.
   But back to Boston. I’ve visited the area several times. I have no family there. No friends. In fact, I don’t know a soul.
   Not a living soul, anyway. But in Boston, one can feel and experience the soul of America. It is for that pilgrimage that I return and return, and take family members along for the experience. The company this time included my lady, Stephanie, and my youngest son, John, joining me for the second time.
   To those readers who have been to Boston and know the feeling, my apologies. Go ahead; skip to another column on the Spectator.
   This commentary is to encourage others – those who are yet to make the trip – to see the birthplace of American Freedom.
   Here are some highlights, from my perspective. Most sites are accessible by strolling the Freedom Trail. Its simplicity is part of the charm. Just follow a red trail in the sidewalk, to another place and time.
   • Boston Common, America’s oldest park, is a great place to start. Adjacent is the Massachusetts Capitol, with its golden dome – the first plating was done by Paul Revere and sons. Across from the Capitol is the Shaw Memorial, immortalizing the bravery of the nation’s first black regiment in the Civil War. (For a better understanding of the Shaw significance, rent the four-star movie, “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Bring Kleenex.)
   • Nearby is the old central burying ground. There you will find the graves of legendary patriots Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and James Otis. Victims of the Boston Massacre — including Crispus Attucks, a free black man shot dead by the British — also are interred here.
   • The old State House, first constructed in 1713, may well be the most historic structure in the United States. It housed British government in the colony, and also was where the earliest representative democratic bodies met to debate the issues of the day. The Boston Massacre occurred just outside its walls. The Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston from a balcony.
   • Faneuil Hall, a remarkable architectural specimen, has hosted historic patriotic gatherings since the earliest days. It was here that many of the most important arguments and decisions of revolutionary times took place.
   • The North End is one of the oldest and best preserved sections of Boston, and includes the home of Paul Revere and the Old North Church, made famous in Longfellow’s great poem … “Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere …”
   • Across the Charles River is the Charlestown Navy Yard, home to the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned battleship not just of the U.S. Navy, but in the world. The Constitution’s most famous battles took place during the War of 1812, but it saw action numerous other times, including the defeat of the Barbary Pirates, immortalized in the Marine Hymn with the line, “to the shores of Tripoli.”
   • Looming above the Navy Yard and dominating the skyline is the obelisk marking the Battle of Bunker Hill, where a ragtag band of patriots first demonstrated the ability to stand toe-to-toe with the pride of the British Empire. From the top of the hill, looking toward the Charles River and Boston proper, one can almost hear the cannon, smell the gunpowder and imagine the closeness of battle.
   If walking in the footsteps of those who risked everything for the right to be free does not raise a few goose bumps, something’s dreadfully wrong.
   I often worry about the nation we’ve become, so preoccupied with the pursuit of fleeting comforts and pleasures, obsessing over matters of trivial inconsequence. I wish every school kid could walk the Freedom Trail. I wish they could stand and peer over the walls at the Alamo, in San Antonio. I wish they could gaze at the original Declaration of Independence, and the original Constitution, at the National Archives in Washington. I wish they could all see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington National Cemetery.
   One of the ironies of life is that the fortunate do not know they are fortunate. Life is just what it is, so good that when the inevitable hiccup occurs it’s as astonishing as it is unwelcome.
   We lack the perspective of what those who went before sacrificed and endured to secure for us this incredible gift of freedom.
   I find that perspective in Boston. Maybe you will, too.