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Where Freedom Costs The Most

It’s so quiet and peaceful here that bumper stickers boast of the e-mail address GooseRocksBeach.calm. But that may be more true for those of us lucky enough to vacation in Maine, than those born and raised here. As we decorate bikes with red, white and blue streamers for the annual children’s 4th of July parade, and prepare for an afternoon of beach and barbecue, the front page of the Portland Press Herald blares this headline: “MAINE HAS HIGHEST STATE RATE OF CASUALTIES IN AFGHANISTAN.”

According to Department of Defense figures just released, Maine’s casualty rate of 1.52 deaths per 100,000 residents is the highest in the country. Maine ranked third behind only Alabama and Nevada in the number of military recruits in 2009 with 213 per 100,000 young men and women. Economic factors such as lack of jobs play a role for many of those joining and staying with military service.

Maine’s tourist industry is significant which makes it a necessarily hospitable place. But while some of us who enjoy that hospitality hear only gentle waves lapping against the rocky shore, some of those extending that hospitality have family members hearing the terrifying blasts of improvised explosive devises and car bombs.

At a nearby store where we buy our pizza, slurpies and sun screen, the clerk tells me her 24 year old son has just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq. “He came back once and was fine, but he came back this time and he’s not the same. Something’s wrong but he won’t talk about it.”

Maine is emblematic of the two societies into which America has so starkly divided. One that serves and sacrifices, another that benefits and almost obliviously goes about both its business and pleasure. Those of us, in service to community through nonprofit organizations like Share Our Strength, are fortunate to do work that bridges that divide.

The Fourth of July is always a much anticipated celebration of American independence and the blessings of liberty that go with it. In an America at war, and in an America with record numbers of citizens unemployed and hungry, it is also an opportunity to ask just what we do with that freedom, to what purpose do we freely choose to devote ourselves? Here in Maine, where freedom extracts a higher price than any other state, that question burns as bright as the fireworks we enjoy. The answer – service to others – shines even brighter.

Best wishes to all for the holiday!

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