Most of us today will be content to enjoy the fruits of liberty rather than examining our success at sustaining the American dream.
This Fourth of July will be a day of celebration, a day of hot dogs, barbecue, cold drinks and fireworks. It will be a day of red, white and blue banners, patriotic songs and parades. It will be a day in which to revel in the good fortune of living in America.
But at some point, as the strains of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" fade, perhaps we'll be moved to examine how well the rhetoric meets reality. What exactly is it that we are celebrating?
Technically, as on every July 4, we celebrate the audacity of delegates from 13 colonies who, just 231 years ago (not long compared to many countries), signed a declaration of independence that would plunge them and their countrymen into a long, bloody war. That bold move ultimately would change the world in profound ways.
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But as much as we celebrate the act itself of declaring our independence, we also celebrate the idea behind it, the then-unheard-of notion that people are entitled to govern themselves. Inherent in that radical experiment, was the cornerstone belief that all who dwell in this nation are entitled to certain inalienable rights.
But the embodiment of that ideal, the playing out of the dream, often has been messier and more muddled than the founders might have envisioned. For one thing, our collective history has not been one of seamless justice and equality. After all, it took us nearly a century and a Civil War to free the slaves, and another century to grant African-Americans their basic civil rights. White settlers cheated and mistreated the Indians who were here first, and many others have suffered because of race, creed or country of origin.
Do we really ask in earnest that other nations give us their tired, their poor, their huddled masses yearning to breath free? Many of us today, it seems, are more inclined to build walls to keep the "wretched refuse" at bay?
And what defines patriotism? The loyal faith in the wisdom of our elected leaders? The willingness to speak out when we believe they are wrong? Or, perhaps, a reasoned effort to balance both? And why, in seeking that balance, do we so often find ourselves at each other's throats?
As we seek an answer to that in the midst of a contentious war, we are duty bound to praise the steadfastness and courage of those holding the line, the men and women in uniform who answered when their nation called. None can question their patriotism.
Today we celebrate spacious skies, waves of green and purple mountains' majesty. But are we doing enough to preserve our nation's natural blessings, are we good stewards of this land we are so fortunate to occupy?
We laud our rights -- to free speech, to assemble at will, to bear arms, not to be subjected to unreasonable searches or intrusion from government. But in the effort to enhance our security, do we sometimes sacrifice too high a portion of those rights?
While these questions are important, perhaps they are best saved for another day, not the one where we glory in the attributes that make this nation unique in history. Yes, America may have its flaws, but no other nation has been more inspired or more inspiring when it comes to the ideals of freedom.
Today, let's wave the flag, strike up the band, set off the fireworks and joyfully celebrate what it means to be an American.
Let us celebrate and work to uphold the ideals that have made this nation unique in history.
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