I hear the cries of America.

The bitter sarcastic smiles of candidates remind me that sarcasm originally meant 'to rip flesh'. The harsh and harmful tooth-and-claw rhetoric and neo-machoistic posturing have cut America deeply, and the partisan hatred they have both sprung from and birthed bleeds in my soul and causes me to ache, when I can feel the pain beneath the waves of apathetic numbness, what America is, deep down, beneath all the spin and the bullshit.

I am a Quaker, a member of a proud religious society whose central doctrines of equality helped form the American Dream, a church that was there in the beginning, trying to broker a peaceful existence with the native inhabitants of this continent, and a church that has never stopped fighting for the freedom of each and every person in this country. I am also from Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence itself was signed, a city slowly dying from the poisons that slide through America's blood. I am descended from both Republicans and Democrats in my heritage. I am descended from farmers and teachers, factory workers, homemakers and businessmen, and I am more proud that words can say to be able to count them all among my forebears. Almost everything I am I can count as coming from my American heritage. I love that dream, but, in the immortal words of a non-American, I am not the only one.

Every American knows what it is to love America, that fiery mix of emotions that comes only out of the most passionate relationships. Every American also knows that buried deep in the heart of that love is the single word Freedom. America was founded by those men and women who left their homes because they wanted something that they couldn't find where they lived, and their dream called out to the world, still pulling the best, the brightest, and, most importantly, the most independent people of the world to its shores to this day. We all understand that America weeps when her people are not free, and that she does not long tolerate the oppression of her people, especially from within.

How is it then, when we all feel the same love, that we are so divided against each other? Are we jealous lovers who seek to take all of America's gift of freedom for ourselves, or have we just begun to forget our lover's face after too many hours at the office, too much time away from the marriage to the land that was consummated for most of us at birth. Yes, I think we have begun to forget her whom we should never forget, and now, just now her cries are becoming loud enough to remind us that we have left her all alone in agony.

It is not enough to say you love America; the word love becomes diluted when it is not tied to action. We must take time to remember our lover, to look upon her face and remember what it was about her smile that caught our hearts the very first time. We must remember how to practice freedom.

Freedom is at its root the capacity to do, moreover to be, anything. A freedom that is built upon restriction is a lie and cannot stand against itself. Nevertheless left to our own devices, we who are free will use our freedom to restrict the freedom of others. We may be imperfect in this regard, but our country does not have to bear the brunt of it. Legislation through restriction has lead us to the place we are now: alone, angry, and unsure exactly why except that someone else must be at fault for our condition. Legislation through freedom however, the principle upon which our country was built, ensures that when an individual acts to preserve the freedom of another, he acts to preserve the freedom of himself.

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal," does not mean that all people are created with the same socioeconomic background, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation. It does not mean that all people will receive the same lucky breaks in life, nor does it mean even that all people will choose to follow the path of true freedom. What it means is that every person is endowed with the right to life, and the right to freedom. What it means is that every person you have walked past today, this week, for the whole of your life, is as much of a person as you are, has as much of a story as you do, and is as free to her thoughts, opinions, and actions as you are.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties used to be defined in terms of political beliefs instead of moral ones. Maybe there was a time in between now and then, when a person joined a political party because they identified with whatever beliefs that party upheld. If there was, it was before my lifetime. The Democrats of my generation are only Democrats because they know for certain that they don't agree with the morals espoused by members the Republican party. Likewise, the Republicans are mostly so because they are genuinely afraid of the damage they could do to this country.

It is time to start defining ourselves in terms of what we believe instead of what we do not. Defining yourself in terms of what you are not only fosters hatred, and hatred is the true enemy of freedom. It is time to think and think hard about who you are and what you believe, and to believe it without paying attention to who might not believe the same as you. The true birthright of America is this very freedom and we are squandering it by paying so much attention to everyone else. We all have common ground. We can find it if we start figuring out just what ground we stand on before we start marking borders.