It was a HUGE undertaking. I don’t know of anyone personally who has ever done anything this monumental.
A burning purpose impelled Noah. That burning purpose was to preserve the religious and political freedoms of this very new country and its experimental form of never-been-done government, a Constitutional Republic (not a Democracy as so many people mistake).
Noah believed that words are powerful because they’re our direct expression of ideas. America was expressing very new ideas, ideas which defied tyranny and placed power in the hands of the people. For the first time in history the governed became the governors.
Words were important. They would be used to express “the American mind.” They created reality. They created the future.
Noah wanted us to understand every word in our Founding Documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Every word in The Federalist Papers, the series of essays that brilliantly explain our Constitution. Every word spoken by our politicians and written in the newspapers. Then and now.
If you re-define words to mean less than they are… If you manipulate terminology… If you reduce literacy… You reduce intelligence. You reduce the power of understanding. You reduce collaboration. You increase stupidity.
You reduce freedom.
America was freedom.
America is freedom.
But could we define it?
Could future generations define it?
Could evil forces re-define it in ways to enable them to re-create tyranny?
Not on Noah’s watch.
He was meticulous with his definitions. His definitions are powerful and glorious. Complete. Rich. They embody full concepts.
The great French philosopher Voltaire said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” This is one of the most useful things ever said, and I have turned many an “argument” into a creative and deeply satisfying dialogue by doing just that.
I have studied every definition in these words, and so many others. These words have gone from being superficial ideas I heard carelessly bandied about in social gatherings, to robust concepts that are now powerfully ingrained in my spiritual DNA. I am grateful to Noah for them. Possibly you find a word or two here of interest. Warning: there may be words within the definitions you’ll have to look up too.
Did you know that Noah learned 26 languages in the process of writing this dictionary? His purpose was to ensure that his derivations were as pure and true as they could be.
Noah meticulously wrote definitions for 70,000 words. It’s a big, fat dictionary. Still in print, thank God. You can get a hard copy of this dictionary on Amazon: 1828 Dictionary. I find it particularly satisfying to feel its weight and turn its pages and greatly prefer it to the online version.
Keep in mind Noah had no keyboard, this labor of love was all by hand. No electricity either. Candlelight and quill pen.
This was a man who could truly get something done.
And what he did is a service to all humankind.
Little did he know that there would be a woman up in the hills above the San Francisco Bay almost 200 years later whose soul would blossom and whose spirit would soar, whose intelligence would become magnificent, as a result of his long evening’s work. He may not have imagined me, but somehow he knew I would be there and gave this gift to me, as he gave it to you and all our future generations.
May we use it to preserve our religious and political freedoms, and for so much more.
Thank you, Noah, for this most magnificent gift. And Very Happy Birthday!!!
It’s funny when you meet another soul on a journey of spiritual experience. Quite a moment that is.
I spend a lot of time with people and I love it. On average I meet 40 or more new people a week and I enjoy the interchange with all of them. By the same token, I enjoy solitude.
I like to run when it’s completely dark and experience the magnificence of night’s transformation into dawn, sunrise and then a glorious day.
No one is up when I am. As I run, I float up into a spiritual serenity, bliss. Reaching even exhilaration and rapture. It’s ecstasy to see the beauty of this world uninterrupted. It’s a universe unto itself. I don’t know if anyone else ever feels this way because no one ever talks about it.
This morning was really special. I came upon this cat. I was running, the sound of quiet rhythmic thuds as my feet softly landed in the dark. Owning the whole world.
This cat was sitting in the middle of the street and, in the solitude of pre-dawn night, he was owning it too.
I slowed down and approached, sensing whether or not he wanted me to come close, whether or not he wanted me to reach out and pet, and possibly massage behind his ear.
He examined me as I came closer. Found I was on the same wavelength. Invited me to come.
I gently pet while he walked back-and-forth, lightly rubbing against my legs. He looked up from time to time, looking into my eyes searching for what was in my heart, my soul. What he found there was serenity and love, just as I found serene love in his eyes. He leaned into me.
It was quite a silent spiritual communion.
Alas, eventually I had to keep moving for when sunrise arrived, an agenda kicked in.
I gently said, “Goodbye” while rubbing the top of his head with one last pet. He looked up and slowly blinked both eyes, a cat’s special acknowledgement, a cat’s way of saying, “I see you.” I gave a slow blink back and said, “I see you too. Have a good morning and hope to see you soon again.” I took my leave.
As I ran along, filled with spiritual connection, I turned around and took this picture. There he sat, still looking at me. Holding on to our connection. Me too. We had a bond. A profound moment. Two souls who truly met. A moment in time only he and I would ever share, would ever know. And yet, we were both so much better for it.
I ran into his owner later and said, “I saw Winston this morning while I was running. We had a very nice time.”
She said, “You’ve got to be kidding! He doesn’t let anyone near him! He bites and hisses! Don’t tell me he let you pet him!”
I said, “Oh yes! For quite a while. It was quite nice.”
She looked at me like I was nuts.
I believe there’s a beautiful soul in each of us. We don’t always find or reach it in each other. Sometimes it takes a moment in the dark of spiritual serenity to find that wavelength that transcends all, reaches beyond all, and finds the soul in the other person.
It’s always there, but it’s not always visible to the eye.
There’s a wavelength of the soul that sees. That reaches.
This is Ollie. Ollie and I have passed each other many times in the neighborhood while I’m out walking and he is too. Ollie trembles in fear and growls at you if you come close.
A number of years ago his lovely owner told me she was sad about it, but Ollie had always been this way.
This week, as I was walking, and Ollie and I were about to pass yet again, I realized that I had accepted all this as inescapable reality.
She had said it with so much conviction, and Ollie had growled so convincingly, that I had, without even thinking about it, accepted our distance as a way of life, the way things always had been and always would be with Ollie.
But, somehow, this week, this moment in time was different.
I was unexpectedly struck by something. I looked at Ollie and his cuteness and suddenly I could feel what he was feeling. In all its terrible force.
I thought, “Oh, God, Ollie! I know what it feels like to be this afraid and it feels terrible.” I was all at once filled with a powerful love for Ollie.
That impelled an immediate and dramatic reversal in my decision about “reality”.
I looked into Ollie‘s beautiful brown eyes and sent him a telepathic message: I think you are so very cute. You absolutely do not need to be afraid of me. I am your friend. Only pure friendship here. I would love to pet you. It will feel really good. Come on over and I will.
Ollie came right over to me. I reached down and started to pet the top of his head and behind his ears. The fur on the top of his head is unbelievably soft.
Ollie loved it, especially being scratched behind his ears. I sensed with my fingers all the places he like to be petted and we had several minutes of joyful communion. We were both absolutely delighted.
When I stopped to take his photo you can see the eagerness in his eyes to get back to it.
What you can’t see in this photo is how energetically and vigorously Ollie was wagging his little tail back and forth. Once we started, neither one of us could get enough! I was laughing and I swear Ollie was smiling.
I looked up and his owner was beaming at me. She was radiant. She said, “In all of his 12 years, that has never happened.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier woman.
It made me think about how important it is for me to maintain an independent frame of mind. People are always telling me about “reality”. Sometimes I accept it without inspection. I did for years with Ollie.
This beautiful encounter with Ollie made me realize, yet again, that if reality isn’t the way I like it or the way I want it, I can do something about it. Create a new reality. Ollie created this new reality with me.
I also believe that people, animals, all living things, that we’re all capable of levels of communication that we haven’t even begun to explore.
People are so caught up in the traps and tangles of spoken communication, just trying to get themselves understood with words, that there’s very little exploration of the elegance of all the layers and carrier waves involved in carrying our thoughts to each other and from others to us.
It’s a fascinating field for exploration, much to be done.
I believe intention is telepathically transmitted. I can pick up someone’s intention in an email, a Facebook post, a look, the length of time it takes them to respond … There are so many signs and clues. Thoughts and messages are carried in many ways.
I don’t think I’m special. I think I just pay attention and don’t invalidate my own perceptions.
I live in more of a cottage than a house, not so much in size, but in experience. Cozy. A feel of comfort, warmth and relaxation. A place for easy reverie.
Reverie is that beautiful state of mind of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts. I find it blissful.
Small house, large garden. Many flowers, many birds, lots of singing, hummingbirds definitely. They like to fly from tree to tree and often to my roof. They gorge on little summer plums from the plum trees.
Butterflies, lots of lavender, large, fat bees, frequent deer, occasional raccoon and skunk, the baby skunk so cute, I wouldn’t have asked for skunk, but waddling little baby skunk are adorable.
Many tall pine and several redwood trees that tower high above me, lots of other trees I don’t know the names of, lots and lots of blue sky, wide blue highways for fluffy white clouds to travel slowly in their graceful caravans.
Brick patio. Cats chasing, playing, wrestling, running and jumping about playfully. Wind chimes. Music.
My house was built sometime around 1940. Back in the day, well before there was a Bay Bridge connecting us to the City, San Franciscans took the ferry across the Bay to summer homes in the hills. Mine was built as a summer home.
Spiritually I feel very close to the architect. He thought through light, space and lots of windows for fresh air. There are many parts of the house where I can feel his love.
I was stunned to find that on the Summer Solstice every year, happening two days from now, the glorious sun sets in the exact center of my living room window, lavishly creating a front row center seat for the most spectacular sunset of the year. Filling my living room with a striking splendor of sunset colors.
I have a group of architects as clients and I was telling one of them how extraordinary this was. He said, “The Mayans figured it out. So did your architect.”
He also told me that what must have happened was that my architect spent time here when it was just a tree-filled hill, spending all day here, studying the changing light and designing the cottage so light would fall in the bedroom in the morning and travel around the hill to the patio for the day, ending the day in my living room sunset. Filling the day with light.
He told me how much care, how much loving precision, it takes to create that.
I wish I could thank this amazing architect. He designed a place of great reverie. In my mind’s eye I can see the early San Franciscans, filled with gleeful anticipation, taking the ferry across the Bay to arrive here. The great sense of release, relief, comfort and relaxation that greeted them here. How in the mornings they woke to sunlight peeking through their bedroom window. How they savored their sweet summer days on the patio and how they sat joyously together in the living room around June 20th, just like I do now, enchanted, filled with the same wonder I feel, absorbed in the dazzling and glorious, and rather miraculous, annual sunset spectacle. How they abandoned their cares behind in the City, and came here to relish the freedom of light, garden, sky, birds and bees, the joy of reverie.
Emily Dickinson wrote a beautiful poem about reverie:
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee. And reverie. The reverie alone will do, If bees are few.
Here there is much lavender. Many bees. Much blissful reverie.
Thank you, Architect. You created something sacred. You created something timeless.
Why was the Revolutionary War in 1776 inspired and started by a group of patriots in Boston known as the Sons of Liberty and not the Sons of Freedom?
Why does the Declaration of Independence say that we have we all have equal rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Why not freedom instead of liberty?
Why does the Preamble say the explicit purpose of the US Constitution is to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity”, and not “the blessings of freedom”?
Did we die for liberty? Or did we die for freedom? What is the difference?
As often happens, good dictionaries, especially big heavy fat old ones, have answers to this and other philosophical questions. Thank God I have a large bookcase of them so I can delve into the meaning of life and emerge wiser.
Freedom is being able to be anything and do anything in the absence of all restraint. It’s complete absence of control and restraint on who we are, our actions and, especially, regarding our consequences.
Liberty is the state of being free from SUPPRESSIVE or OPPRESSIVE or CRUEL or UNJUST or DISAGREEABLE or OVERLY FORCEFUL control or restrictions from government on our way of life, our actions or political views.
Liberty ASSUMES restraint is essential. It assumes our actions and our consequences matter.
Liberty is freedom from ARBITRARY restraint, which means freedom from unpredictable or unreasonable power used against you, freedom from restraint or actions by government that are unjust or happen without your agreement or are out of your control.
Liberty means control that you DO agree with, control that is predictable, reasonable, makes sense to you and that you do CONSENT to.
If we had total freedom in this country, people could murder, steal and do other horrific crimes with no restraint.
Liberty gives tremendous freedom, but not to do that.
When Navy sailors have “Shore Leave,” it’s called liberty, not freedom, because they have to come back to the ship and they better not get into (too much) trouble. If they didn’t have to come back to the ship at all, you could call it freedom.
Understanding and consent are vital to liberty. That’s why we elect our representatives and vote for laws. Our vote is our consent, or lack of it.
So, liberty is a BALANCE of freedom and control. It recognizes that some control is necessary, but makes a SHARP distinction between good control and suppressive control.
Liberty gives you tremendous freedoms and yet depends on control that helps you PROSPER and THRIVE, not control that suppresses you. It’s control that you AGREE with, laws that you agree with, government that you agree with, politicians who REPRESENT you.
Our vote tells the government what we consider to be good control and what suppressive controls and restrictions we do not consent to.
Liberty requires constant attention and protection to keep the balance of control and freedom in a harmony that enables all life to thrive. It is easily lost. You can have too much freedom. You can have too much control. It’s an ever-changing balance as civilizations rise. And civilizations fall when this balance is overwhelmed.
This is where responsibility comes in. Freedom is an absence of responsibility. Liberty is a shouldering of responsibility.
A study of history demonstrates that liberty is easily lost.
Our history also paints in vivid color that liberty is so important to us, to human kind, we will fight … and die … for it.
You can see that liberty depends on intelligence, education, and a good sense of right and wrong. It relies on the ability to do the greatest good for the greatest number because real liberty belongs to all and it is only in this way that the precious balance between control and freedom can be maintained.
You can see it takes all of us to create it.
You can see liberty requires perceptive judgment and an ability to predict consequences.
We fought for liberty, not freedom. The Founding Patriots counted on future generations, on us, to have that essential intelligence, education and good moral sense of right and wrong required to keep it going. All of our Founding Patriots knew that if we lost intelligence, education or moral sense, we would lose our liberties.
That is WHY Noah Webster dedicated many years of his life after the ratification of the US Constitution in 1788 to creating the incredible and brilliant 1828 Dictionary of the American Language. He believed that if we forgot or lost the true and complete definitions of words, we would lose our political and religious liberties. There’s a great topic of discussion.
And, yes, I owe a lot to him for helping me understand this distinction between liberty and freedom, words he so carefully and lovingly defined and distinguished.
The Revolutionary Era, when we won our liberty, happened during what is known as the Age of Enlightenment. This was an age from the late 1600’s through the 1700’s marked by great new philosophical ideas, not just in politics, but in every facet of culture and economics.
It was also known as the Age of Reason.
Our Founding Patriots intently studied and were shaped by the great philosophers who came before them and created this age. As a result, their fundamental belief was NOT that they were creating a government “by the people.” Our Founding Patriots had studied the democracy of ancient Greece and decided that a government “by the people” resulted in uncontrollable passions and emotions that led to unreasonable wars, bloodshed and mob rule. No, this was going to be different.
The Founding Patriots founded the United States not on the principle of government by individuals, but on the principle of government by ideas.
Leaders are interchangeable. And we want them to change often. Our Congressional Representatives are only elected for two year terms.
When you are united and governed by GREAT ideas, your leaders can change pretty easily.
This was to be government not by individuals, but by ideas, reason and power derived by consent.
It was the Age of Reason. We are to be governed by reason. Not emotions. Not passions. Not opinions. Not force nor weapons. Not greed or desire. Not personalities. But by our ability to reason, to communicate, to collaborate and to come to agreement.
Our Founding Patriots believed in all this: humankind’s ability, our ability, to reason, to communicate, to collaborate, to come to agreement, and, most importantly, to do the right thing.
This was the real revolution in politics and government.
And the purpose of government was believed to be limited. How else could our freedoms be preserved? The purpose of our government is to secure and protect our fundamental human rights which we all have in equal measure, no one individual or group has more rights than any other. And to keep control and freedom in a beautiful balance and harmony so that we, so that all life, can prosper and thrive.
The English philosopher who GREATLY inspired and influenced our Founding Patriots was a #1 bestseller for 100 years in these days, everyone was quoting him. This is the Englishman John Locke who wrote in the late 1600’s.
“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom.”
Our government was a brilliant experiment in a BRAND NEW control, one which ENLARGES freedom.
In memory and gratitude for all who have fought, and died, to secure our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, our freedoms, our right to spiritual, emotional and material prosperity … I stand straight and tall and salute you. I thank each of you. I will share your message with the world.
There’s a tremendous amount of philosophy in the foundation of our government. Philosophy intended to unite, philosophy about our basic goodness.
As John Locke wrote:
“To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality.”
May we continue strong on this path to enlightenment. To liberty.
I go for walks every afternoon. Some days I wonder what would happen if I just kept walking.
I live in a place that has woods, trails, crooked streets, stairways and paths that go on for miles and miles. And in these glory days of Spring, I walk through an infinity of flowers, many growing wild and free.
I stop to smell their heavenly scents.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s one of my favorite writers. Not so much the books he wrote for his son, Kidnapped and Treasure Island. But his poetry, essays and other books, especially on travel, like his essay called, “Walking Tours.”
In the 1800s Walking Tours were very popular. People spent weeks and even months walking. Can you imagine? They walked all around Europe, exploring the nooks and crannies. RLS’ descriptions of his walking tours are very enticing, not to mention humorous.
Walking is a whole different way to experience travel.
I compare it especially to today. We have machinery to get us where we want to go. We measure success by how fast we get there. Not by the scent of the roses along the way.
Hiking is also big here. I don’t find there to be much difference between hiking and marching.
I do enjoy hiking and have done quite a bit of it.
But what I’m talking about here, what I’m enjoying a whole lot these days, is strolling, and ambling. It’s a whole different experience. In 1828 Noah Webster defined strolling as a wandering on foot; a walking idly and leisurely and ramble is to walk without restraint. It’s a I wonder where this path goes … let’s take it and find out.
Boy, they sure knew a lot about walking back in the 1800’s! I sure would have liked to amble with either RLS or Noah.
And I’m loving it these days. It’s a going slow enough to drink in everything around me, discovering immense sources of pleasure in the small things you miss if you’re moving fast.
Like these roses in the picture, the impossibly delicate pink, the millions of brand new buds, hiding, waiting to burst into dazzling flower. They smell as good as they look. It’s not something you want to rush though. I linger with them until I’m thoroughly intoxicated.
My neighbors march past me. They’re energetic. Vigorous. They’re not strolling. They’re marching. I enjoy their energy, the way they energetically tackle the hills in my neighborhood. It’s all smiles and warm greetings.
But these afternoons are moments in my life where I enjoy the world going by and feel no need to keep up. I work fast throughout the day. And then I go slow.
Slows slow allows me to notice and drink in the world. The beauty of the sky. The beauty of the clouds. The intricate design of tree trunks. The deep purple petals of flowers never before seen. The scent of pine and jasmine. The soulful eyes of squirrels stopping to check out the scene. The songs of individual birds.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a lot about the joys of walking, and of sitting by the fire at the end of the day, watching the flames, enjoying his “journey into thought”.
It’s truly this journey of feeling all my senses come alive, and the joy of thought, that refreshes my spirit every afternoon. Each day completely different. Discovery of new flowers, new views, new clouds, new breezes, new intoxicating scents.
I wonder what would happen if I just kept walking …
On my early morning run it was dark, the lights in Oakland and across the San Francisco Bay were twinkling, the light was gradually changing to dawn’s early light.
An unusually large full moon reflecting on the San Francisco Bay created magic. A woman walking her dog was standing at the top of the hill, looking with wonder at the moon.
I stopped and stood next to her and looked up and out across the Bay.
I said, “It’s an incredible time of day.” She said she thought so too.
Then I told her what the return to light means to me.
She said, “It’s my favorite time of day.”
Then a moment of thoughtful silence.
She said, “I like to get completely away from people. This is the only time I can do that. I’m tugged and pulled in so many different directions, there’s so much noise in the world and much of it isn’t happy.”
I said, “I totally know what you mean” and we talked about how beautiful it is to get back to the serenity of your own universe, to what’s true, important and beautiful, the beautiful universe where we are nourished by our hopes and dreams, where we can create a new reality.
The mood of the conversation was of complete beauty and serenity. Complete understanding.
At the end of this very brief conversation she looked a little blown away, she looked happy, radiant.
I said, “I hope the rest of your day is as beautiful as it is right now.”
She thanked me profusely, like I had given her something grand. She also looked and sounded totally surprised. It made me so happy.
As I continued my run I was pondering, puzzled, but why was she so surprised?
Possibly we don’t very often encounter real substance in our interactions?
We are all capable of great substance. Of conversations that means something. I do believe the world is hungry for real conversations, real friendships, real love. It’s a beautiful moment when the sleeping giant within us wakes up. When we make a simple yet deep human connection. When we talk about things that are important and we see true understanding in the other person’s eyes. When their eyes smile at us.
I run into her from time to time. We greet each other like warm friends. I don’t know her name. It doesn’t matter.
She always says, “Where is our moon?” and we look in the sky until we find it. She always calls it, “our moon.” It makes me so happy that she does. Our moon. We share the moment, not saying much but rich with warmth, pleasure and understanding.
Birds sing a morning symphony as we go in separate directions, united by the magic of the moment.
Wishing you many moments of deep human connection and great beauty with the many wonderful people in this world who share the longings of your heart. May you find fulfillment in their eyes and they in yours.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I was visiting. I asked my father, “What would you like to do now?”
He said, “We can do anything. We are free people.”
I heard him say these words many times. We can do anything. We are free people.
Always with a smile and it always made me laugh with happiness.
I think he appreciated his freedoms every day.
He was born when Lithuania was ruled by the Russian czar. His father was forced to serve in the czar’s army. My father‘s first memory was when he was three years old, traveling home in a troika from Russia after one of his father’s military assignments. This is a troika.
The czar ruled Lithuania with a crushing iron fist.
There was a brief breath of freedom in Lithuania after the Russian revolution set them free. Then the Nazis brutally invaded and occupied Lithuania, taking over every aspect of life. Then the Soviets vanquished them and took control.
The Soviets despised freedom. Books were banned. The Lithuanian language in school, the national anthem, newspapers, public gatherings, religion – all banned. Most importantly, freedom of thought and freedom of expression – banned.
Obedience was harshly enforced. Disobedience swiftly and brutally punished. Deportations of family and friends to Siberian concentration death camps were daily.
My father’s outspoken brother was taken to a Soviet jail cell and tortured for three months.
My father had strong nationalistic political opinions. He loved Lithuania with all his heart. When he heard the Soviets were coming for him next, he packed up my mother and their infant daughter and, with only a couple of small suitcases, he left everything behind and reluctantly fled the country he so loved.
From the moment he stepped foot on American soil on Ellis Island, he breathed deeply of the freedom here. He never took it for granted. He was filled with appreciation and enjoyment of America’s freedom. He relished it so fully, that anyone around him couldn’t help but experience the joy of it.
And, whenever I asked him, “So what do you want to do now?” he would get a look of pleasure. I knew what he was going to say. We were free to decide in that moment. We could do anything we wanted. And we could breathe deep of the freedom to do it.
So, even the smallest of things became grand pleasures. Eating a bagel on a Sunday morning. Listening to a piece of classical music. Walking and talking (we did a lot of that). Riding our bikes on the boardwalk at the beach. Planting flowers. Ice skating on the lake. Drinking home-made brandy (lethal) by the fire and watching the dancing flames. Sitting on the porch on a summer evening listening to the crickets at night (a favorite).
Every moment filled with the fresh breath of freedom.
The last time I saw him, we were enjoying a rambling conversation when he looked out the window. It was night and snow had just started to fall. He said, “Come over here. Let’s watch the snow.” I sat close next to him with his arm around me, and we watched the miracle. Each lovely snow flake gracefully descending from the sky.
It was enough to be together. It was enough to be free.
I woke up this beautiful Spring Saturday morning to the sound of a bird symphony and the scent of jasmine through the window, and I thought, “What do I want to do today?”
And then I smiled. I can do anything. We are free people.