Independence Day

So, it’s July 4th. Independence Day. And I wonder how many people will take a second to sit down and reflect on what this day is, and why we celebrate it. I swear, most folks just think it’s one more day off of work, one more day that the mail doesn’t come, and a day that’s tradition is eating hot dogs and hamburgers while watching pretty fireworks explode.

It may just be me, but July 4th is a holiday that affects me on an emotional level–more than Thanksgiving, more than Christmas.

I’ll say it from the get-go, I’m proud to be an American. And I feel excessively lucky to be one. And really, why wouldn’t I? I belong to the longest running democracy in the world. And you can thank our founding fathers for having enough insight to take a look around, and say “we need to make our constitution flexible, amendable, if it’s going to survive the test of time.” Things that don’t adapt die out. Why do you think so many governments were overthrown every other day in the history of Europe? Our constitution is based upon a concept, not a man or a group. That’s why it’s still around.

Now, before some of you out there start blasting my blog with, “Well, I would be proud if it weren’t for [insert political statement here],”  or “Well, if G.W. weren’t in charge…blah blah blah…,” please think for a minute how lucky you are to be able to express that opinion openly. You’ve never had to live in fear that expressing your opinion openly would lead to your arrest, or some authority official coming to your door and arresting you for it. I know I know, here comes the “Well, in the Bush Administration’s occupation of the White House…” and “…look at the Patriot Act…” and all those conspiracy arguments. And it’s completely missing the point of what I’m saying.

Being an American means, by definition, that you MUST voice your opinion, good, bad or otherwise. If you don’t use that voice, the country suffers. It’s really that simple. If you feel something is horribly wrong with this country, you can form a group and talk about it, hash out plans for change, present them to your Representative, and if nothing happens there, you can still create a big enough stink through the media and the Internet to make sure your voice is heard. Yes, you’ll have to fight. Yes, it won’t be easy. But my God, do you know how lucky you are that you have this option at all?

And really, if you hate the government enough, you can change it. You have that power as Joe Citizen. Infact, it’s your duty to change it. Yes, it’ll be a long, frustrating fight. But it can be done without you having to pick up a gun or blow things up, unlike our forefathers during the Revolutionary War.

Honestly, look around you. Think for one second about what would happen if you would have been born in China. How many of you remember Tianamen Square? Or the end of Communism in the Soviet Union? Or even the recent voting in Iraq, where those people took the booths risking insurgent attacks? You don’t have to worry about that nonsense. You have the royal treatment. You have easy access to food, water, stable electricity, heat, 5-billion channels on TV, and all kinds of crazy shit right at your fingertips. All you have to do is focus on living your life on your terms in a country where tons upon tons of opportunity is right in front of you. Even if you’re poor, you have a shot to make something of yourself. You aren’t limited by a caste-system. The only thing that limits you here is you. Period. Wow, do you realize how many millions of people would love to be able to say that?

And then there are others who like to think of other democratic countries as some kind of magical land. “Well, in Sweden, blah blah blah blah,” or “In the Netherlands, I can get high and it’s no big thing!” And yet, the majority of these folks won’t get up off their butts, learn a different language, and head on over. That’s another beauty of this country–if you hate it so much, you’re free to leave. But I think you’ll find that all of these countries have their own little quirks that you won’t like. For example, there’s often a billion taxes involved. But if that trade-off is better for you, hey, fantastic. Go for it!

I’m not saying we don’t have our problems. We most certainly do. And other countries are struggling with those same problems, too. For example, most European countries have been wrestling with immigration issues for more than 20 years. And I’m not blind to our past. We’ve done a lot of stuff that we should never be proud of, but should always remember so we learn from our mistakes. From our participation in slavery to breaking every treaty we ever made with the American Indians, we’ve done a lot of things poorly. We’ve had growing pains. Just as every other country on the planet has.

I’ve never served in the military, but my family has a long tradition of fighting for the country, from the War of 1812 to the Civil War to World War II to Vietnam. And I, for one, still believe in my country, and am still willing to fight for it. So if you’re out at a family gathering tonight, and you see little Billy and Sally excitedly running around with sparklers as you sit with a belly full of hot dogs, hamburgers and beer–take one second–just one second–to pull your significant other closer, to take a deep breath, and think about how lucky you are to be right where you are.

Happy Birthday America. May you have many more.


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