The lantern light danced wildly on the wind-whipped tent that served as the thinnest of shields against the new winter’s harshness. He hardly noticed; the light or the cold. He was in his element. His pen was his sword and on his improvised desk, a drum head, he had just finished carving out a burning vision that would warm the souls of those who needed it most in these desperate hours.
It was late. But he could see that there was a light still burning in the general’s tent. He couldn’t wait. He had to show it to him now. Announcing himself before putting his hand to the flap, the general’s voice beckoned him in.
The supreme commander’s face was red and his eyes swollen; not so much from the cold as from the tears. He was distraught beyond words. Only his will to keep on a day, sometimes just an hour, at a time was keeping the near impossible dream of the revolution alive. In two weeks all the enlistments of his starving volunteers would be up and he would then be a general without an army. The other generals were talking openly of replacing him. If ever there was a picture of hopelessness, this was it.
Thomas handed his latest effort to his esteemed friend. Drinking it in, the general’s flagging spirits began to warm again to the holiness of their long-dreamed-of quest for freedom. With the first light of morning George Washington had his officers read Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” to all of his soldiers. It began:
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. ………”
Two days later, at dusk on Christmas Day, a solemn, but resolute, George Washington ordered 2,500 men of his sick, hungry, ill-equipped army and 18 field guns into the boats for the attack across the ice ladened Delaware River. The password Washington gave for the mission that night was “Victory or Death”.
After reaching the New Jersey side of the river they then marched up the icy road to Trenton pulling the small field guns behind them. The now famous victory that followed inspired the young nation and brought in large numbers of recruits from every state in the new union. The army was now revitalized in both numbers and moral. The revolution had turned a crucial corner.
And so, from those few, who’s shoeless feet, wrapped in rags, stained the road to Trenton with their blood on that Christmas night, the way was paved to a new freedom unmatched in the history of the world!
And so this idea that “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods” is an insight that serves us still today. We find that even the greatest among us are often severely tested. And what do we gain from our greatest challenges? We gain three great things; one, we gain a measure of ourselves, and two, our challenges awaken in us a desire to become stronger in order to deal more successfully with whatever is confronting us, and lastly, our tests create a strong stimulus in us to seek the assistance of a Higher Power.
Hence from the great example of our founding father we see the essence of what is being asked of each of us, which is: To keep on showing up no matter what, even, when it hurts.
There was once a woman saint who said, “It’s tragic when people suffer, but you don’t realize the tremendous growth a soul achieves by going through these difficult and painful experiences.” So there’s the crux of it. We are here to profit our souls, not our egos!
I’m John Johnston. See you next time, here, On the Cosmic Porch!