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Craven: Love Of Country

Memorial Day began more than one hundred and fifty years ago, first in the southern United States when families took time in the spring to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers with flowers.

Soon, the practice spread to the families of Union soldiers. And during the 20th century, this custom spread still further, as a gesture in memory of all American soldiers who have fallen in combat.

We honor our soldiers for their love of country – for a commitment to pay the ultimate price of sacrificing their lives in times of war.

And this brings me, today, to reflect on the profound notion of love of country - and how it extends to so many walks of American life.

I’m thinking how love of country and community embraces our fellow men, women, and children and animates the vitally important work of our best teachers, rescue workers, civil servants, artists, journalists, medical researchers and practitioners – even the high school students who have recently found the courage to mobilize in one voice to call for an end to gun violence.

Love of country motivates people to place mission and meaning and devotion to others - and to ideas larger than themselves – above financial compensation. And I think this spirit is what keeps alive the deeply deserved respect we pay on Memorial Day.

The Woodstock Film Series recently screened acclaimed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s newest release, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. The film shows an enormous commitment by that institution – to the lives of people from every walk of life in America’s largest city. We see a firefighter encouraging job seekers, a patient tutor helping immigrants with literacy skills, a person teaching braille to someone recently made blind, and a staggering array of people helping people, in book discussions, lectures, performances, child care, and research deep into the library’s archives of documents, books, photographs, and digital resources.

Ex Libris shows how library staff and volunteers work to serve people of color and low income. And it underscores how they fully honor the intelligence, curiosity and capacity for life-long learning in each of their constituents.

It’s just one example, but Ex Libris demonstrates a profound love for the range of people who make up the city of New York. And to me, it’s a powerful embodiment of our sacred call to “liberty and justice for all.”

Jay Craven is a filmmaker who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and directs Kingdom County Productions
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