Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On Independence Day

Following the Kazoo Parade on Saturday there was some additional entertainment by the Dream Kids and a few remarks, including some from Mayor Fred Daugherty and his sons, David and Patrick, who have both served in Iraq. He was kind enough to forward Patrick’s speech, and while long for a blog post, I thought it was well worth sharing for those unable to attend the event.

Our first declaration of independence is made at birth, kicking and screaming our existence into the world when we escape our mother's womb.  Our last is made when we leave our aged and weary bodies and drift off to whatever existence we believe waits for us after death.  While these two points in our individual histories define the beginning and end of our lives, for the most part they do little to characterize us as a person.  Our choices to align ourselves with people and objects as well as to sunder those ties do much more to define us and reveal to others what it is we believe in.

We make hundreds, if not thousands, of such choices between our birth and death.  Many of these declarations come naturally and mark our lives with milestones.  As soon as we are able to stand on our own, we make every effort to get as far from our parents as possible.  The path we begin to walk leads us from childhood to adolescence, where we are soon endowed with a small plastic photo ID card allowing us even more freedom.  The path becomes a highway and everything begins to move a little faster.  Eventually, we find that adulthood has sneaked up on us and that our responsibilities are no longer limited to simply making sure our homework is done and that the dog was fed.  We discover that perhaps seceding from our parents' rule is a bit more uncomfortable than we first planned.  At some point, the thought of having children of our own no longer simultaneously inspires crippling fear and sarcastic laughter.  Some of those new parents eventually discover that 18 years can be a very, very long time.  And, that sometimes, just as children wish to escape the rules and regulations of their parents, mothers and fathers sometimes long to abdicate their thrones as heads of the household.               

These gains and losses of independence are common to the average American.  It is our decisions as individuals that influence where our lives go; which relationships to develop and which ones to sever; what we choose to do with our time; how we choose to make a living; the values that we hold dear and the moral code we live by.  As Americans, we are constantly confronted with obligations and choices.  Some, we grow into, but most of them we bring upon ourselves.  Sometimes, we would love to revert back to our childhood, back to when we had a wise and all-knowing entity to make our decisions for us.  Sometimes, we allow it to happen.

Two hundred and thirty four years ago, a group of men decided their lives were being unfairly restricted, that they were not being fairly represented, and that their cost of living was far too high with little or no reciprocation.  They were children serving an absentee father.  It would have been an easy thing to go about their lives, mouths closed and eyes to the ground.  They could have grown old and passed the problem down to their children.  Instead, our forefathers chose to bring the American Colonies into adulthood by declaring their independence from the British crown.  Imagine the courage that it took to sign a piece of paper, which not only opposed an entire empire, but also effectively laid the destiny of the new country upon each of their shoulders.

Today, we consider men such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington to be among the greatest patriots in American history and as the fathers of our country.  There's line in Shakespeare that mentions how some men are born into greatness, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.  I'd prefer to think that these men were great because they were ordinary, simple men putting their lives on the line to make something great happen.

They were the first American citizens to effectively change the course of history by demanding more of a life than simply doing what was demanded of them.  They sought the independence that would allow every generation after to live a life free of expectation and obligation.

Americans love to boast that they live in the greatest country in the world.  I count myself among them.  Opinions may differ as to the reasons we are such a strong country; it may simply depend on who you ask.  Some may say it's because we have such a strong military, and I would be inclined to agree.  Others may say it's because our economy, despite its current status, is still one of the most stable in the world, and I would be inclined to agree.  A few may say it's because our country's leaders have always been wise and educated men of a selfless nature who hold the average citizen's best interests at the forefront of each decision made.  (no comment because I'm in uniform)  If our military was stripped and disbanded, our economy left penniless and wallowing in debt, and our leaders all abandoned their offices, I would still not want to live anywhere else. 

We all grow up going to school and saying "The Pledge of Allegiance."  We're taught to stand and put our hands over our hearts when the national anthem plays.  Our parents tell us to say "thank you" to the veterans we cross paths with.  When we're young, being a good American is a simple thing.  We do each of these things without fully appreciating why we're doing it.  As adults, it's far too easy to forget why we should keep doing them.

Independence Day means more than getting a day off of work, going to picnics and parades, or even listening to some lame speaker give you his opinions on patriotism.  (oh, and I'm referring to my brother, not me)  Nevertheless, in my opinion, the 4th of July is quite possibly our most sacred patriotic holiday.  It marks the day in our country's history when we were all given a gift.

The men who fought and died in the Revolution put their lives on the line so that we could claim independence at birth.  The men who fought and died in every American conflict thereafter did so to preserve that freedom and to keep our country intact.  And, so perhaps I was remiss when I claimed earlier that all of us are born without an obligations or allegiances. We owe it to the men who founded this country, and to the ones who defended it, to be good Americans.

When I say "good American" I'm not speaking of someone who has a flag waving in their front yard, or someone who sends care packages overseas to support our troops.  I'm not even referring to those of us who are able to proudly claim that we wear a uniform, or had worn one years ago.  While doing any of these things to support and serve our country are important, in my mind at least, a person needs to do two things specifically in order to be a good American.  The first one is quite simple to do and takes very little effort.  Appreciate what it is we have in this country.  Appreciate the fact that a group of men stood up to tyrannical law, laid their lives on the line, and won the gift of freedom that we still enjoy today.

The second thing is seems to be a bit more difficult.  I'm not usually one to quote lyrics, but I was listening to something the other day that I felt would help to bring my point across.  A song by The Avett Brothers speaks of a time "when nothing is owed, deserved, or expected, and your life doesn't change by the man that's elected.  If you're loved by someone you're never rejected.  Decide what to be and go be it." The founders of this country created a place where we have an abundance of opportunity, a place where your achievements are limited only by your own efforts.  They did not intend for America to be a country of entitlement.  Just as we are born owing almost nothing, so are we born being owed nothing.  Our forefathers created a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  They gave the average citizen power over the government that was intended to serve them, and not the other way around.  Do not give up that power.

The idea that makes our country so much better than any other in the world is that normal Americans, such as ourselves, have the power to change it.  We don't need to just sit back and twiddle our thumbs while politicians make up our minds for us.  Quite frankly, to do so is a slap in the face to the men and women who have fought and died to make America what it is today.  Don't give up your power.  Vote at election time.  Actually learn about the candidates instead of just deciding based on party affiliation.  Instead of expecting the government to bail you out, help yourself.  Do something the hard way instead of taking the easy road.  I guarantee you'll appreciate the outcome more, even if you fail.  Every single American citizen is endowed with the right to make a life they can be proud of.  No one should have the ability to infringe upon that freedom, not the president, the congressmen, or even the big bad mayor of Nazareth.

But, because we have the power to change, we also have the obligation to bring about that change when it's needed.  Our forefathers were wise enough to realize that what makes a country great is not its politicians or military leaders, but it's people.  If the people hold freedom dear to their hearts, than whatever falls can always be rebuilt.  America is a reflection of us.  Be great, and our country will always be the same.

God bless our troops, God bless you all, and God bless America.  Happy Independence Day everyone.

Posted via email from Ross Nunamaker

No comments: