By Curtis R. Joseph, Jr
This motto was adopted by the Founding Fathers in 1782 as being representative of the new country that they were fashioning. The phrase itself was submitted in 1776 by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere to the committee charged with developing the Great Seal of the United States. Du Simitiere was born in Switzerland and lived in the West Indies for more than a decade before he moved to New York and ultimately settled in Pennsylvania.
Not only does the motto speak to the thirteen individual states becoming one nation, but it is also reflective of the fact that our country is home to many races, religions, and ethnicities. It’s also home to individuals like Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, who come from other countries. Again, the idea is for the many to come together as one.
Although I practice law as my profession, I also perform as a drummer in a few local bands. As a drummer and one who studies history, I particularly appreciate the fact that, for centuries, drums played a vital role on the battlefield. Not only did they keep the soldiers marching in step, but they also communicated various commands from officers to troops. Much like the various roles that soldiers play in battle, musicians and their instruments play different roles in bands. None more important than the other…simply different.
To that point, in our respective comings and goings, it is likely that we have encountered all types of Americans, each cherishing an idea of a country that they call home. As a young military kid, I learned that the monolithic American does not exist. We’re all different, we’re all vested with different talents, and in the grand scheme of things, we all play different roles. Again, none more important than the next…simply different.
For example, a couple years ago, my band performed at the conclusion of the Firecracker 5K, an annual run that is held in Shreveport on the 4th of July. For my part, I played drums and cymbals along with four other musicians and a vocalist. The drums and cymbals can be found in sculptural representations throughout pre-historic times. Our saxophonist played an instrument that was created by a Belgian gentleman named Adolphe Sax. Our trumpeter played an instrument that was heard tearing down the walls of Jericho over 3000 years ago. Likewise, our guitarist followed the Hittites, who played stringed instruments more than 3000 years ago. Many instruments, many cultural representations, many textures, yet one overall groove.
Throughout our country, on the 4th of July, many enjoy hot dogs and exploding fireworks. As a young man living in Germany, I recall eating a frankfurter and being amazed at how much it resembled a hot dog. And, as I appreciate it, fireworks date back to the Tang Dynasty of the 600s.
All that said, I’ve always found that beauty lies in the simplest of things…the small. To that point, my band’s gig at the Firecracker 5K was rained out that year; however, had it not been rained out, I wouldn’t have had the amazing experience of numerous individuals, whom I’d never met, coming together to help us schlep our equipment through the rain. We didn’t request their help. They simply saw that we were in a precarious position and that we needed help. We were a motley crew, no doubt, But, as we moved the equipment through the rain, the thought that ran through my mind was, “This is America—random strangers lending a hand without being asked.”
To stress this point, I offer Emma Lazarus’ sonnet ‘New Colossus’, which is mounted on the pedestal of the Statute of Liberty, and reads, in part, as follows:
“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,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
All in all, our country is still a young one when consideration is given to the vast arc of history. We still have time and opportunity on our side. We can get this right. Our county is an idea, and its beauty lies in its diversity. We are great because of our diversity, not in spite of it. We are great because our many become one. May God bless each of you with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And may God bless these United States of America!