The best way to celebrate the 241st birthday of the USA may be to do nothing – to revel in the freedom that we have to commemorate the day in whatever way we feel appropriate. We have the freedom to gather for fireworks – or to stay home and read a book. We have the freedom to invite friends over for a backyard barbecue – or to grab a candy bar and take the dog for a walk. We can gather in masses and watch a parade….but we don’t have to gather and cheer. Perhaps we choose, instead, to be quiet and contemplative.
There are countries in the world, even today, where people do not have such simple freedoms. If you were born in North Korea, there is no choice about whether to attend the government’s parade of armaments or whether to cheer and wave flags as the tanks roll by. How often do we really think of that simple difference? Even if we choose to attend a parade, we can watch impassively or even scroll through Facebook and ignore the passing floats and bands.
Today, as we celebrate the 241st birthday of the United States, we should consider what America truly is –and why America exists.
America doesn’t exist simply because some people crossed an ocean to seek a new life – it exists because the human spirit demanded the dream of a new life. America is not just a nation-state; it is a state of mind and a philosophical ideal. It is a utopian dream that, admittedly, does not match reality, but the important thing is that we try to be that dream. If we lose that goal, the dream will die.
The heritage of America – like the dream that IS America – cannot be defined without reference to the rest of the world. The world needed America – needed and stills needs the very idea of freedom, a new start, the ability to create a new and more relevant society. Why did those first settlers – those first immigrants – journey here? Some came from a sense of adventure, but most came because they had a desire to find something new, to create a new life and a new identity – to leave behind what was old and worn and tired and to create something new and different … something never seen before.
Admittedly, there were flaws from the beginning, flaws in our country’s foundation should have been obvious from the beginning and repaired long before now. The Constitution begins with the phrase “We, the People” – but the word “people” at that time was defined narrowly as white, male freeholders. The promise of America did not include women or the poor or people of color — even the Declaration of Independence states that “all men” are created equal. The US was founded on the abomination of slavery and the attempted genocide of the native population – serious flaws that have been addressed only piecemeal and still require attention.
Acknowledging and addressing those flaws does not, however, negate the dream. The great American experiment must be tended and continued for the future of humankind. People, the world over, need to know that freedom can be achieved and dreams can become reality.
So…celebrate today in your own way – with fireworks or with silence, solitary or in a crowd – but celebrate mindfully, realizing that your personal celebration is a statement of freedom. Be aware of and grateful for that freedom and vow to honor that freedom by keeping the dream of America alive for the future: a place where all are welcome to breathe free air, to create a new life, and to build a hopeful, peaceful future together.
4 July 2017