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Paying attention to Independence Day

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Now, I like a hotdog and fireworks as much as the next guy, but I also think that we should pay some attention to the realities of being a citizen and being free. None of us likes to have serious demands made on our time and our interests, yet we know in our hearts that it goes with the territory in a democracy. That's why I was interested in a news story I saw the other day about a man who decided to pay attention - and to get others to do the same.

Right before Memorial Day, Edwin Eaton was watching the television news with his wife, Carolyn, when he got disgusted with all the air time devoted to the bad behavior of celebrities rather than to important issues of the day. Eaton, who is the city manager of Long Beach, N.Y., figured that he could see to it that his town, at least, did something positive.

"While our society and media outlets appear to be consumed by the antics and activities of dysfunctional personalities and the 'glitterati,' we tend to forget that each day Americans are anonymously dying in Iraq," said Eaton in a memo to city department heads. "I think it only fair that they be remembered and honored. To achieve that end, we hereby direct that American flags throughout the city be flown at half-mast."

Eaton added, "I'm not a super patriot or anything. I had to do something. I had to put this in perspective. I ran this by the city council and they said to do it."

Indeed. The five-member council, both Democrats and Republicans, went along, one saying, "This is a beautiful gesture we all agree on."

After Newsday and The New York Times picked up the story, messages of support came from around the country. "What has happened to us?" asked one. "Maybe with people like you we can regain some sense of what is important in this life."

Sadly, too many of us neglect some of our most important responsibilities. We're only too glad to talk about - and demand - our rights, yet when it comes to standing up and doing something about the needs of our community, our country, even our world, are we ready, willing and able?

Are we ready to inform ourselves about local and national problems? Are we willing to vote every election day? And are we able to actively reach out to help our neighbors and friends?

It may be a cliché to say that freedom isn't free. Nonetheless, it's true.

Happy Independence Day!

- - -

Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers

- - -

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Citizenship 101: Awareness, Commitment, Action," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

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