Sink or Swim, Live or Die

I’m awake at 6:30 this morning, saying good bye to my husband as he heads to work on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and I can’t help but think back eight years.  It was a typical morning.  I was working as a teacher.  My husband was working as the assistant city planner of our quiet community.  We had just bought our first home.  It was an adorable fixer-upper with plaster walls and thick wood floors that needed to be refinished.

The alarm had already gone off once which turned the radio on in our room.  As usual, I was still asleep waiting for my own personal alarm (Neal) to wake me up when I really couldn’t spare another minute of sleep.

Like every other morning I felt his hand on my shoulder, “Candi, wake up.”  I grunted, probably unintelligibly.  Then his shaking was more insistent, “Candi.  Wake. Up. Our country has been attacked.”

Those were words I had never expected to hear. I rolled over quickly and sat up.  “What!?” I said as he turned off the radio and flipped on the TV in our room, searching for the news.

“Two planes were flown into the Twin Towers,” he said.  I was about to ask him more, but then I stopped.  We both stared at the screen at the image we all know so well.

Live camera crews were on the ground filming the disaster.  They were talking about the mass chaos, speculating on what had happened.  You could hear the shock in everyone’s voice as they watched the scene in front of them.  Then the first tower fell.   It happened so fast and a thick, black cloud of dust and debris rolled like a wave through the streets.  I remember so clearly the horrible recognition of what had just happened, how many people had died in an instant.  Then it happened again.  Then the third plane hit the Pentagon.  My sister lived in Washington DC.  Then the fourth plane crashed. I remember thinking, how long is this going to go on?  When will it stop?  How many more people are going to die?

Above us we could hear the afterburners of the F-14s taking off from the Air National Guard Base that was just a few miles from our home.  That was to become a common sound in the coming months as they continually patrolled the coast.  It always shook the old windows of our little house.

We learned in the weeks that followed that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history had taken the lives of 2,974 innocent victims and 19 hijackers. A national tragedy gripped the nation.  It’s was as if all of us had been affected.  For weeks all I could do when I get home at night was turn on the news and stare.

Fast forward eight years.  Last week I get a call from my sister.  One of her friends has been killed in Afghanistan, leaving behind a young wife.  She expresses feelings of frustration at news media and politicians who are effusive at times and silent at others.  Their concern over the troops seems to be closely correlated with how much it will help or hurt their agenda to talk about them.  A young man dying in Mesa, AZ is not a national tragedy, but it is completely devastating to one family.  I realize that the September 11th death toll is still rising.  More than 5,000 U.S. troops have died in the war on terror and countless other innocent civilians and foreign troops.

I had a realization as I was walking through the commissary a few days ago. I saw a young veteran at the end of the line where I stood.  He had three prosthetic limbs and one stump.    He had lost all four limbs for his country.  I almost didn’t want to look. It made me feel ashamed of my own weaknesses and selfish tendencies.  It made me feel ashamed of the fact that I’m scared to be away from my husband for a matter of a few months.  In that moment I realized that for the majority of Americans freedom is cheap, even free.  There is no personal cost.  All it takes is a few of their tax dollars.  Big deal.  But for a very few Americans freedom costs an unimaginable price: their lives, their limbs, their loved ones, the precious moments watching their children grow up.

One of my neighbor’s husbands has been deployed for the fifth time.  She has four children.  Another of my neighbor's children listen to their dad’s voice on CD each night say recited prayers and read their favorite stories.  She said that the first year of their marriage her husband was gone 260 days.  To them freedom is not cheap.  But it has not cost them yet more than they are willing to pay.  They know it’s true worth.

One of the most amazing things to me is that those who have paid the highest price for freedom are those who will tell you that it is worth the cost.  My husband sees injured and scarred soldiers whose only desire is to get back and keep fighting.

I can’t help but think about a time when every person in our country knew and understood the cost of freedom.  Almost every family had a father or brother or son that had fought for that freedom.   I don’t wish to go back to those days.  We are incredibly blessed that so many do not have to suffer the horrors of war, but I do wish to share a thought from those who knew what Freedom truly cost and how much it was worth paying the price for.

The following speech is attributed to John Adams:

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote…
I know the uncertainty of human affairs, but I see, I see clearly, through this day's business. You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die ; die, colonists ; die, slaves ; die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold. Be it so ; be it so ! If it be the pleasure of heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready at the appointed hour of sacrifice, come when that hour may. But, while I do live, let me have a country, or at least, the hope of a country, and that a free country.
But whatever may be our fate, be assured; be assured that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood, but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both. Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires and illuminations. On its annual return, they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection and slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude and of joy.
Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it. And I leave off as I began, that, live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence now, and INDEPENDENCE FOREVER !
Freedom may not cost us personally, but my hope and prayer is that it is never cheap in our hearts.  I believe whole- heartedly that for the vast majority of Americans who will never have to see war or it's effects, all that freedom requires is for them to remember and appreciate.  And that is a very small price to pay.


  1. Candice, this was beautiful and touching! I cried. Thank you for the reminder. You are right, and it is so easy to forget about the cost of freedom. It is easy to forget that there is even a war right now. And that people are dying. I love John Adams. He was such an incredible leader, so humble and good.

  2. Thank you, Candi. This is beautiful. People so often and quickly forget what a miracle our freedom is, choosing to bicker over small things instead. I find it fascinating that those who sacrifice the most also seem to be the ones who complain the least.

  3. Jessie,
    I'm always amazed at the profound and eloquent words of our forefathers. They inspire me continually.

    It's so true. I often feel like the main thing that is lacking among our current culture is gratitude and, as you said in your post, a willingness to do hard things. I am amazed by those who do some of the hardest things silently, and I just felt the need to honor them.

  4. That was a great way to start off 9/11 for me--a reminder of our blessings and the sacrifices made for us. Thanks. I might have to a little 9/11 on my blog today.

  5. Kasie,
    I think everyone should do a little 9/11 on their blog.

  6. What an eloquent post, Candice. Thank you.

    I remember the surge of patriotism and unity that came right after September 11th. I had never felt so proud to be an American. It really is a shame that so many people have forgotten that and have gone back to their battle lines. Hopefully, today we can try and bring a little of that feeling back.

  7. Renee,
    I felt that same thing. I think I'm like most Americans (and I did not intend this post to be at all political) when I say that I find my self wishing for the party of common sense and decency to somehow materialize in this country somewhere between the battle lines that exist.

  8. Candice,
    I'm new to your blog, but I just wanted to let you know that I LOVE this post. Thank you.

  9. JenE,
    Welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see more of you. :)

  10. Candice. Thank. You.

    My friend's husband is about to be deployed for the first time. It scares me so much. She is scared. It's all new and insanely crazy for this to all hit so close to home. Freedom must be recognized and respected. Thank you for these beautiful words.

  11. Linda,

    The deployment thing is scary. I've met a lot of people who've been through it, and they all tell me that they try to look on the bright side and consider the time as personal growth and development time. We're also so fortunate to live in an age of easy cheap communication. But even with the right attitude and tools it's still a difficult and scary thing. My best thoughts go out to your friend.

  12. Candice-

    I reply to your quote with a quote from another forefather.

    "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything it's value".
    --Thomas Paine

    You said "One of the most amazing things for me is that those who have paid the highest price for freedom are those who will tell you it is worth the cost." Well said. Thats an interesting point. Thomas Paine explains really well why that is. I miss my husband more than anyone can possibly imagine, but I will fight for the freedom he died for with all that I have. I paid the ultimate price for freedom, so its value shot up. Thank you for your beautiful post. God bless America!

    Brooke Jenkins
    (wife of Captain Cory Jenkins, KIA Aug. 25, 2009)

  13. Brooke,
    Wow, I don't even know what to say, except God bless you and your family. My new goal is to express my gratitude to those, like you, who have had to make the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes I think people don't say anything because of awkwardness or fear of saying the wrong thing. But I believe that even if we can't understand what you are going through, your pain, your sacrifice and that of your husbands needs and deserves to be acknowledged. So from the bottom of my heart, Thank you. I can only pray that you will be given strength to deal with the loss of your husband.