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Perspective: Singing 'America the Beautiful,' far, far away

Georgiana Avram

It happened one moonlit night 15 years ago in the island country of Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. Half a world away from us here in Illinois.

A group of American and Japanese students were visiting a tiny village near the jungle. We’d spent three days working side by side with barefoot kids and grandparents. Politicians and farmers. Buddhist and Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Hour after hour in the hot, hot sun.

The purpose of our labors was to breathe life into the motto: “We build the road…and the road builds us.”

On the last night, everyone in village gathered at the Buddhist temple to share a common meal. Starting with blessings from each religious tradition, the celebration came alive.

Children danced and sang in the light of a bonfire. Old men told funny stories. Sri Lanka’s gruesome civil war and the world’s troubles seemed…distant. So did the poverty and ethnic division that our hosts had endured for years.

When it was my turn to perform, the song I chose surprised even me: America the Beautiful. Hmmm. At one of the most exotic places on earth I sang about my home.

The words of that song still resonate today.

“And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

I’m Rick Brooks, and this is still my perspective… from way far way, a long time ago.

Rick Brooks retired after 26 years as an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Co-founder of the Little Free Library movement, Rick now lives in Princeton, Illinois and runs Midwest Partners, a civic engagement group.