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IN PHILADELPHIA


My father died in a Philadelphia hospital in 1999. Some weeks before his death, I was able to spend a few days with him. I stayed at the home of some friends in Washington Crossing, just a few miles north of Philadelphia, and each day I would drive into the city.


The first morning that I made the trip, I was stopped at a traffic light on Arch Street, and I was there just long enough, I suppose, to begin looking around. What I saw moved me deeply.


To my left was a cemetery, and right there, just a few feet beyond the curb, was the burial place of Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation's founding fathers. I looked to my right and a little ahead, and there were two signs. One said, 'Betsy Ross House,' and it told how many blocks it was to the home of the woman who crafted the very first American flag. The other sign said this. It said, 'Site of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1789.'


There I was, in my car, waiting at an intersection in a large and busy city. But this was an intersection like no other I had ever encountered. This was the very cradle of American history. It was enough to take my breath away. I felt like a child; I could almost reach out and touch greatness.


Our nation had its birth in Philadelphia. In fact, Independence Hall was just a few blocks away from Dr. Franklin's grave. It was on July 4, 1776 that Ben Franklin became one of the fifty-six patriots that signed the Declaration of Independence. Others in that circle were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both future presidents, and, of course, John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister who was the only active clergyman to sign the document.

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