Tuesday, July 5, 2016

No More Independence (Day)

As our nation’s 140th birthday fades like the smoke of the fireworks, I have to wonder if this nation has ever been more divided. A nation that began as a united front to end the tyranny of another nation has, over 240 years, become so divided that it causes me to question if we might be better called “The Divided States of America.”

In many ways The United States of America has grown since its inception, but in contrast we have also cast aside so much of what has been valued for many years. We have forgotten the sacrifice of the millions who gave their lives to make possible the freedom we have today. But each year, even if for just a few days, a modicum of sentiment is stirred, and a day such as Independence Day is certainly one of those days.

However, the reality is that America has largely stopped celebrating Independence Day for the more foolish intent of celebrating a day of the month. You may think this is an overstatement, but consider how many times you have heard “Happy Independence Day” instead of “Happy July 4th.” Some will say I am splitting hairs, but we do not say, “Happy January 1st” or “Happy 3rd Monday in February” or “Happy 4th Thursday in November.” Why? Because the holiday is not about a date, it is about a purpose. (The one exception, though it is remembered, not celebrated, is 9/11, which has never had a formal name adopted – the name is the date. I am also aware of Cinco De Mayo, and while date is certainly celebrated by many Americans, but it is not a traditional American holiday.)

The purpose for Independence Day is to celebrate the birth of a country, but we promote the date. Imagine if someone, on your birthday, said “Happy [Month] [day of month]” as in “Happy September 23rd.” You might question their intent or, at least, find it odd that they would acknowledge your birthday in such a way. But that is exactly what we do by promoting the Fourth of July over Independence Day (though America has no such feelings about that matter). However, concern is that as we settle to celebrate a day, we fail to teach the next generation the truth of our independence. And not the kind of independence that tosses responsibility and blame back and forth like a tennis ball at Wimbledon, but the independence and strength that comes from being united as a nation.

As has often been said, unity is not uniformity. We will have differences. We will have debate. And in the end, disagreement will still be present. But we do not have to let the debates define us as a nation. Debate can bring growth and understanding even though consensus is not achieved. Truly, we must, as a nation ask ourselves the following.

  • Will the differences and the disagreements prevail, or will we, as Americans, find a purpose to keep us united?
  • Will we stand strong together despite our differences or will we end up losing whatever independence we have left because we choose to be divided?

The issue of celebrating the date over the purpose has been a pet peeve of mine for years. The reality is that no holiday is more American than Independence Day. I am not sure another holiday could be. But now, within ten years of celebrating a quarter of a millennium as a nation, I wonder if we will make it to that celebration. Truly, if we, as a nation, wish to honor a date, instead of its reason, then maybe we no longer deserve the independence represented by the date. When we cease to honor the reason, one day that reason will be forgotten, and then it may cease to exist altogether.

So, “Happy July 5th!” everyone.  I hope you retained some sense of Independence on Monday.  I hope you will continue to reflect on the freedoms that have been won by the blood, sweat, and tears of the millions in the past, and are preserved by so many today. If we forget these truths, and if we don’t pass them on to the future generations, the freedoms we take for granted now will vanish quickly. Let us truly celebrate our freedom and our independence so that the future generations will know that July 4th is not worthy of celebrating, but the Independence that was declared on that day should be celebrated and protected on July 4th and every other day of the year as well.

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