It is a touch odd to be anywhere but America on Independence Day. I’ve done it a few times now and I can assure you it never feels fully “right”. First off, you’re expected to work and my internal body clock is confused all day. There are also no commercials advertising sales on shoes or mattresses or whatever celebrity line Macy’s is peddling that year. No one has made piles of potato salad and fireworks aren’t usually even available for sale. Like I said – the trappings are missing and everything feels a bit… off.
But the truths of what this day celebrates? The reality of the day? Those are evident everywhere.
America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad because it’s going to put up a fight. – Andrew Shepherd, The American President
200-odd years ago, a group of men – brave men and men who were probably scared beyond their wits – signed their name to a piece of paper that did something that had never been done before. Using the wisdom of the Enlightenment and the fire in their bones, they laid out an argument saying that being subjects of the Crown really wasn’t working out that well for them and would King George let them do their own thing. I re-read the Declaration this morning and was struck anew with how clear it was.
“So, Your Highness, here’s the deal. You’ve broken so many promises that we’re starting to loose count and we’re actually starting to feel like you’re treating us not like citzens or subjects at all. It’s almost like we’re just here to make you money and we’re not really down with that. So, we say no. Thoughts?”
King George’s response – you may remember – was not really magnanimous. So what followed over the next few years was a bloody war fought all throughout the colonies. Locations like Lexington and Concord, Valley Forge, Trenton, Boston – these are seared into our national memory. The names of George Washington, Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin – they form our national creation narrative. We owe so much to them, we really do.
Because what they did was essentially found a nation on an idea. Through blood, sweat and tears, through life and death, they leaned into the hope that the ideas they had could actually work. A nation could be founded on the idea of equality and sans monarchy. They said that this truth should be self-evident – “Come on Georgie, this just kind of makes sense. Surely people cannot be held back by their station of birth. Surely everyone has the God-given right to be whoever they want to be.”
It was a grand experiment – a country without a King. A grand experiment that worked.
America is like a teenager. Awkward at times and not really sure of itself, but always on the cusp of greatness. – Michelle, The Mighty Ducks
I’m positive that the parents of America would not really know what to do with it now. (Leaving aside the fact that we have indoor plumbing and cars and such things) For many of them, women were subordinate creatures. Non-caucasians were not fully people and children were there to be ignored or abused. They knew no other world and so even as they dreamed of creating a new one, they held onto the structures of the old. Thank God they left room for us to dream too.
Thank God they left room for amending. Thank God they left room for corrections and changes. Thank God they didn’t constrain us by their world and allowed for dreaming. Thanks to them, we keep adding to people who are included in equality. We’ve got a journey to make still, but “We the People”‘s population is growing. I watch with humble tears from afar as my countrymen and women fight for the rights of themselves and others. America is advanced citizenship and these braves one do want it badly. They want it so badly they sue their own government so they can marry who they love and have the rights to control their own bodies. They want it so badly they teach children without contracts and against administrative odds. They want it so badly for themselves and for their children that they’ll literally sacrifice themselves for the life of that beautiful idea – we hold these truths to be self-evident that all humans are created equal.
So happy birthday, my precious America. Happy birthday to the ideals and the hopes and the dreams. Happy birthday to the symbols and the myths and the ways we talk about our land. As we move forward into late adolescence and maybe even early adulthood, may we continue to be our better selves.