I find it challenging to participate in this year’s marking of our nation’s birthday in the manner called for by John Adams who said, “…It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade…”. The reason is not due to being averse to the use of pomp and circumstance to mark the propitious moment of our country’s birth. It is because of the pomposity of the circumstances surrounding our country’s prevailing viewpoints that liberty and justice is for some, not all. Each day’s headlines seem to run totally counter to the very principles we declared to the world were sacred to us on this day in 1776. I am more compelled this year to recognize it in a more meaningful and contemplative way.
I choose to sit and read the document that was written in the weeks leading up to a hot 2nd day of July 243 years ago when it was unanimously approved by the Second Continental Congress. A day when a determined group of Americans unanimously agreed to state in writing their pledge to offer their, “…lives, fortunes and sacred honor” in a document which not only declared their beliefs about liberty and self-government but also theirs and their constituent’s full and irrevocable independence from tyrannical rule.
After doing so, I marvel at the exquisiteness of the words (mostly penned by Thomas Jefferson but also, ably supported by Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York); the soulfulness of the intent to codify in perhaps the most direct way ever up to that point in time the concepts of a just government formed by the will of the people; and the astounding level of courage shown in the convictions of the writers and of their colleagues who approved of their words. What I also am deeply impressed by is that along with the lofty intellectual principles which were articulated are also enshrined the shortcomings of our national ethos with which we wrestle to this day.
For example, the oft quoted and probably most memorable line, ‘…that all men are created equal…” in and of itself drew a line we still struggle mightily to erase between men and women in our country. During a time when we incredulously continue to debate the ‘readiness’ of America to elect a woman to its highest office, I would strongly suggest even a cursory review of the life of a woman who can easily be deemed as the first of her gender who would have been able to lead our country with wisdom, intellect and compassion equal to her husband. A founding mother: Abigail Adams. It was she who famously exhorted her husband, as he embarked on his journey to Philadelphia to litigate the case for American independence, to ‘…remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.’ Is nearly a quarter of a millennium enough time to pass to finally be able to fully respect Mrs. Adams’ request?
I’m further compelled to stop and truly ponder those which the Declaration stated as self-evident truths: that men’s [human’s] inalienable rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When I do, I cannot help but struggle with the dichotomy that while we settle in to ooh and ah over fireworks rockets bursting in mid-air, military jet flyovers and tank rolls or listen to blunted intelligence spewing forth from behind red, white and blue bunted podiums there are those who risked all seeking to experience the dignity of those rights in our country only to end up imprisoned and having been designated as unworthy of even toothbrushes and soap. I’m sure they’d prefer to be wrapped in an American flag today instead of an aluminum blanket. It sure makes it difficult to enjoy a piece of apple pie as they are being offered frozen burritos.
Nevertheless, despite these woeful issues facing our nation currently, out of love for our United States I will strive to be optimistic that the resolve that led us to recognize the natural right of women to vote and to open our doors to the tired, the poor and the huddled masses to share with them our inalienable rights, will also be the source from which we shall find the strength and courage to once more overcome. Perhaps if we all attempt to hold in our memory the men and women who founded our nation and who fought for what it stood for then, we will be re-energized to continue to fight for what it should stand for now. A nation united – of the many joined together as one – which may never be perfect but whose people will always be self-determined to strive for perfection.