OPINION – Excuse me if my “red, white and blue” is showing. I can’t help it. I am a sucker for the passionate display of patriotism shown on the Fourth of July and not just because it brings out my inner pyromaniac, though that helps.
Of my favorite holidays, the Fourth of July tops my list. Every year I buy my family matching flag outfits and burn money in the form of fireworks, I cry when I say the Pledge of Allegiance (true story) and I still get chills every time I hear our national anthem sung plainly and powerfully.
Years ago, when my husband and I were just starting out and chasing our own American Dream – a business that would eventually fail – I came across an essay contest in which the winner won a house.
All I had to do was write an essay on what freedom meant to me, pay a small fee and I was in.
In my haste to enter, I wrote a pithy and more than a little shallow essay all about how freedom allowed me to be … well … me.
I enumerated on the things I thought made me unique in my happy corner of the world; how freedom allowed me to be a married, white female in the dominant religion of the state who leaned just a little to the left, liked guns, and who was still on the fence about gay marriage.
The meaning of freedom has changed a lot for me over the years – as a full-time mom and part-time writer, freedom most often means going to Target by myself – but I have also realized that the meaning of freedom has little or nothing to do with me.
I can trace my American heritage back to the Mayflower, and it is those brave pilgrims who crossed the ocean, and everyone who sacrificed and fought in the name of independence that gave me my “certain unalienable rights.”
Among those: my right to worship the deity of my choice without fear of recourse from my government, my right to choose my political representatives and my right as a member of the press to tell a story.
And even though I am beyond grateful for those rights and others, there is one right more intrinsic in value and less easy to grasp that defines what freedom really means to me – my right to hope.
When I submitted my essay all those years ago, even though I knew the theme was vague and the prize outlandish, I still hoped that I would win. Just as my husband and I hoped that we would eventually save our sinking business. And, when neither of those things happened we still clung to hope that something better would come along … and it did.
It might sound silly, if hope really is intrinsic, meaning it comes from within, how can a country give you that right, that freedom?
My brother works as an asylum officer and has seen firsthand the faces of people who come here from countries that offer no hope. He hears their stories and sometimes their pleadings and always their desires to come to America.
Their hopes far outweigh my own selfish desires for a free house or a successful business. They hope for a better life, safety, to live without fear or to not have to live in a refugee camp any longer.
I would like to think we would all wish that for them.
I often hear – and I have said it myself – that we live in a time and political climate that is so divisive. We argue over land, and who can marry whom, we call each other “liberals” and “Tea Partiers” as if they were monikers akin to cuss words. We even fight over which way the toilet paper roll should be hung (over).
But amid all the fighting, the name-calling and the bigotry there is still, for me at least, the hope that we will someday get along. That we will see that love is just love and that even the most disenfranchised among us deserves a chance.
The closing lines of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “1776,” say this:
The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year full of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that too, they would never forget.
Especially for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning – how often circumstance, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made a difference – the outcome seemed little short of a miracle.
Doesn’t a miracle require hope? Or maybe it is our ability, our very right to hope, that is the miracle.
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