Come the Fourth
No matter that often in the history of our country — as now — we find ourselves in deep political and emotional divides. No matter that we sometimes feel as if our political opposites are creatures of an alien universe. No matter that our legislators often allow these feelings to overwhelm their reason and impede their ability to compromise — and we, their supporters, cannot step off our own soap boxes in our efforts to belittle one another’s political views. No matter, all of it, come the Fourth!
More than just providing us opportunities for celebration, the Fourth of July brings with it reminders of our origins as a nation, recalling to us that we were not always the United States of America, but once a loosely connected collection of colonies belonging to England. It also reminds us of the struggle of our forefathers and mothers to free themselves from the heavy-handedness and restrictions of their parent country, from controls they found increasingly oppressive and tyrannical.
The armies of the nascent Union were, history tells us, a raggle-taggle assortment of citizen soldiers, who left their homes and farms and families to join in a historic fight for independence. I have often wondered what the phrase “the birth of our Nation” really means. After some consideration, it seems to me to suggest the moment at which we undertook to create ourselves.
What emerged as the United States was a work-in-progress (perhaps it still is) dedicated to the democratic ideal of carving out societal values consistent with what most of us desire: to live in freedom ourselves, and grant freedom to those who live among us, to cherish our differences and indeed make space for all of them, and to create a model of tolerance and compassion in our land for all the world to emulate.
Democracy, we say, is messy. It is the noise of protesters and dissenters on the streets and online. It is the vituperative exchanges we hear echoing through the halls of Congress and the caustic diatribes from television and radio talk-show hosts. It is even our own community’s lively and often vociferous exchange of letters to the editor. We may not like the tone, the choice of language or the individuals at the center of often explosive exchanges of views and ideas.
We may not like them, but they are at the heart of the very democracy we have built.
It is good to stop in the midst of our annual celebrations of our country’s birth and think of our independence so dearly fought for. It is good to embrace our differences — our clamorous voices, our passionate stances notwithstanding. And it is good to commit ourselves once again to those ideals pronounced for us in our Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.