After basics like food and shelter, I can’t think of anything more precious or more essential to the human spirit than independence. And there’s probably nothing more taken for granted by those who posses it. That’s too bad, a grievous sin. It’s also probably true that we here in the United States are more guilty of this sin than most. However, once a year we at least try to redeem ourselves; we set aside a day to remember our heritage and to celebrate it. Today is that day: the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that condenses into six paragraphs the ideals on which our nation was founded.
It’s getting close to lunchtime as I write this and I have to admit I’m having trouble with it. Every sentence I write seems trite and inadequate or overly gushy and sentimental, unworthy of the holiday we’re celebrating. I go back, edit and delete until there’s nothing left. This morning’s paper has a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed in it. Many of us memorized those words sometime during our school years and promptly forgot most of them. But some phrases are so powerful and so evocative of what we as a nation hope to be, that they remain locked in the recesses of our brains–phrases like: “decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” “self-evident that all men are created equal” and, of course: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Is it any wonder that I’m having a problem? How can I write anything good enough to honor the tradition of Thomas Jefferson? I’m tempted to blame the times in which we live for my problem. The country is so divided that the crack in our Liberty Bell seems ominously appropriate. I believe that differences in opinion are good and even necessary to create a society that embodies the ideals of that brilliant Declaration. If only we could remember the phrase “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and listen to all opinions, even those with which we disagree. Not just listen, but actually consider that there might be some truth in a viewpoint different from our own. After all, if all men are created equal, shouldn’t all men (and women and children) be allowed to express their opinion? But perhaps not quite so vociferously. A little civility goes a long way.
The times seem bleak indeed, but history reminds me that this is not new. There has always been conflict among men, especially during periods of change. I understand that even the men we so lovingly call our Founding Fathers lost their tempers and shouted at each other from time to time. The story goes that George Washington wondered if he was witnessing a rising or a setting sun. So, maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.
Go forth and celebrate your Life and Liberty. Pursue Happiness.