Second Thought: Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Fanning the Spark

Reminders of what America is about arrive from unexpected sources.


I was high above the Andes a few months ago, on my way from Fort Worth to Buenos Aires, when Thurgood Marshall sat down next to me. Great epiphanies can happen anywhere — in this case, it was over a leisurely airline lunch.
For the next three hours, he shared with me his views on law, social inequity, and class. A prominent attorney, teacher, and legal scholar, he was on his way to address the International Bar Association Convention in Argentina about the rights and roles of individuals and labor unions in an industrialized society. We discussed how the lack of social connections, myths, fear of the loss of status, and a traditional world view limit the opportunities of all but a chosen few in a closed society. We spoke of his frustration with the status quo and his belief that in a democratic nation of laws, the law must be flexible enough to insure a just society with equal opportunities for all.
He spoke of his namesake, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in reverential tones. He told me that his father, unable to go to law school, read everything he could find that Marshall had written on social equality and the role of the law. His father was so moved by the justice’s writings that he named his son after Justice Marshall and raised him from early childhood on Marshall’s words. There was never a question but that he would become a lawyer in the mold of Justice Marshall. His father’s hard work and vision paid off. Thurgood was a star in college who ultimately attended Cornell Law School and became a partner in a prestigious law firm. The Thurgood I met is now in a position to put the earlier Thurgood’s principles and vision into practice.
This tale of a father and son, sharing a vision inspired by the works and life of a great man, seems familiar, except for one twist. Thurgood is a Japanese attorney who was raised in and practices in Tokyo. Prior to attending Cornell Law School, to “learn American justice and law,” he became an attorney with a Japanese law degree.
Americans forget that we are more than a country; we are an idea that has ignited a world social revolution. We are the great social experiment. For more than 200 years, our U.S. Constitution has remained a viable living instrument. It is proof that a wildly impractical idea by 18th-century standards can translate into a nation that has persevered across time, hardship, and vast change. As a people, we have taken the constitution and democratic principles and used them to build a nation based on law, common voices, orderly change, and social vision.
We have seen periods when our leaders devolved into political and partisan creatures with venial, narrow-minded, and self-serving agendas. We have even gone through times when our leaders also forgot that they represent all Americans and that they are sworn to uphold the constitution, not to make end-runs around it. Just when it seems that the spark of our liberty is almost an ash, we rise again as a people to fan the flame. We do this, for the most part, without civil war or internal military occupation or concentration camps. As long as this spark burns, it sets, by example, other fires of liberty worldwide.
On that plane, a foreign carrier, the pilot came out of the cockpit during his break, to seek me out and ask me who I thought would win the U.S. presidential election. He used an image that has been invoked by many through the years to describe America, but what he said after that was so extraordinary that I knew I needed to share it.
He said, “I once read about the shining city on the hill, and I wept that such a place existed. The rest of the world believes in that vision. When the rest of the world fears that that light is dimming, we weep for the loss of hope. The world is watching and praying for you. You have a responsibility to the rest of the world to keep alive the dream of America.”

Dr. Shari Julian of Euless is a forensic behavioral consultant and clinician specializing in criminal cases and mass trauma situations. She can be reached at

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