Today is the day that our nation celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in which we declared ourselves independent from British rule and started a war. If you really think about it, it’s a funny thing to celebrate since we are friends with the British now. After all, they send us such nice things like Downton Abbey and Doc Martin. Well, and Russell Brand. We’ll have to think about that one. He’s funny but also just a little bit disturbed.
I had an interesting conversation about American history the other day with a friend who has been researching her ancestry and was surprised to discover that she is eligible for both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. I too have an ancestor who fought in the Revolution and probably at least a few relatives who fought in the Civil War. I may need to spend some time finding out, so that I understand my own family’s role in American history. It will give me something new to celebrate on Independence Day.
Like Christmas, which in some ways no longer resembles its original roots as a celebration of the birth of Christ, Independence Day is now really a broader celebration of all things patriotic and not specifically about America being free of British rule. I’m okay with that, because I think it’s good for us to take a day to reflect on our national heritage and ponder how lucky we are to live here and what it took from our ancestors (and people today) to create and sustain the prosperity that we have. After all, it’s only by accident of birth that I was born here and not in the Communist Eastern bloc or a poor country in Southeast Asia.
So what does it mean to be an American? I think it means different things to different people, but here’s what it means to me.
…Being an American means that I am free to pursue the things that make me happy. That includes a responsibility not to impinge on the rights of others to do the same.
…Being an American means that I am free to pursue my own religious choices, whether they are mainstream Christian or not. And that I need to be tolerant of those who choose a different path from mine. (Something our first founders, the Pilgrims, were not so hot on. They were all for religious freedom for themselves but not so much if you happened to be a Quaker, for example).
…Being an American means that I am free to say what I wish. Of course, that means I am also free to look like an idiot, so I guess there’s a responsibility there too.
…Being an American also means that I live in a free market economy. For me, that’s turned out to be a good thing but that’s not so for others, so I feel a duty to help those in need whenever I can. Once upon a time, I was one of those poor children who needed a hand up.
…Being an American means that I have a right and an obligation to engage in the political process and vote. I just wish we could do it without quite so much anger and name calling.
What does it mean to you to be an American? Or, if you are one of my readers from another country, how does all this appear to you? Many Americans (myself included) cringe at the behavior of our fellow citizens when abroad, refusing to learn the local language and treating people as though they were on display for their viewing enjoyment. But surely you’ve had some good experiences with us too. Please share.
In the meantime, folks from America, have a quick ponder about freedom and how lucky we are to live in such a great place. Hug a soldier. Thank a fire fighter or police officer. Remember those who have given their lives in service to the rest of us. As they like to say, “Freedom isn’t Free,” so let’s say thanks to those who made it possible.
But easy on the fireworks this year. Colorado is too dry for it anyway and the rest of you need to keep your parts as they were originally configured.
Happy Independence Day everyone!