Monday, July 2, 2018

Independence Day 2018: Why I Appreciate This Country

Anybody who knows me well, knows that I pretty much religiously watch both Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune every single week night, even if the shows are reruns. The other night, three Jeopardy players were flying through a category regarding famous lines from famous historical documents. Here was the clue: "We mutually pledge to each other our Livesour Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor."

To my surprise, none of the players even had a single guess as to what the document was! Of course, if you are an American citizen and have even an elementary knowledge of our history, I would hope you recognize those words as the final line from the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4th, 1776. It really got me thinking. I find lately, especially as a teacher and volunteer who has lots of interactions with kids, that so few are even aware or care about the history of this country anymore. You can chalk it up to the age of digital distraction, perhaps, but maybe it goes deeper than that. 

As Independence Day approaches, I find myself wondering why we don't have an American Pride Month, celebrating the incredibly unique, unbelievable freedoms we have here in the United States? We have appreciation months for everything else, right? We have Black History Month in February, Women's History Month in March, and Pride Month in June. It's so fun to have a month to appreciate history or specific why don't we have an American Pride and Freedom Month? Why do we celebrate our hard fought independence on only ONE day a year? And do people today stop and think about why we stop and celebrate? Or is it nothing but an excuse to barbecue and pop off sparklers? Is your middle school child aware of how much blood has been spilled and sacrificed so that they can be free? Are they familiar with the lines of the Declaration of Independence, immortal words, building the foundation of a country that would offer freedom unlike any other place in the history of the entire planet? 

Here's the thing: history is messy, and nobody is perfect. The United States isn't perfect. It's history is not perfect, and just like any other country, the formulation of the structure of the United States was rocky. Are you perfect? Of course not. I dislike it when people use the phrase, "I'm not proud of my country right now because..." Sorry, but American pride is not contingent upon emotions or political feelings. American pride is something you wear like a badge of honor. We have the ability to voice our opinions and thoughts without being killed, beheaded, tortured, forced into hard labor, or jailed. You have more freedom in one day living in the United States, than many people have in an entire lifetime living in a country like Saudi Arabia or China. You have more luxury, more access to food, water, entertainment, and religion. You want to pick up a Bible and read it? You don't have to smuggle it in and fear being shot. You want to attend a Catholic church? You don't have to worry about being tortured for your religious beliefs. Nobody can tell you what religion to practice or what political party to be a part of. Nobody is forcing you to vote for a communist dictator at gunpoint and nobody is telling you that there is a limit on how many children you and your spouse can have. 

My point is, how often do we really take a moment to slow down and truly, completely appreciate what we have been given in this country? We experience freedom on such a vast and unfathomable level when compared to the rest of history, and much of the world, that we take it for granted. We are like spoiled children, used to speaking out loud, not realizing that somewhere else, we might die for our words. We have independent thoughts, ideas, and feelings. We are immeasurably blessed to live here. 

You can spend your life pointing out the mistakes of individuals or political parties or people, or you can focus on the right here, right now. We are free. Be grateful for that. We have rights. Be grateful for that. You have a Constitution - seriously. Be grateful for that. Are you even aware of what a wonderful life you have here? No matter who you are, or where you come from, you have a shot at a better life because you live here, in this amazing place. A place that has been, quite literally, consecrated by the blood of countless soldiers who have given their very lives for the freedoms we enjoy. I get tired of the grumbling and griping from everyone, complaining about the country or complaining about politics. Here's a novel idea! What if, for a just a moment, you stopped talking and looked around you? What if, for a split second, you realized what you have and took a moment to be grateful for it? You are not being censored! You are not being forbidden from watching certain movies! You are not being arrested for waving an American flag! You have the right to vote! You have the right to run for office! You have the ability to say what you want! You have the ability to protect yourself! 

This is a great country. I love it. I'm proud of it. I'm proud of the people who have fought for it, and when push comes to shove, you'd better believe that I would defend my home if I had to. Why do we only stop and feel this pride on Independence Day? Why don't we feel it every day of the year? 

Remember who we are. We stand for freedom. Overall, the American Dream is alive and well, and we should take advantage of that! Looking back at the past of this country, it's easy to point out mistakes of individuals, political officials, or government laws that mistreated Native Americans (I'm actually writing a book on that subject) or African Americans. It's horrible and it's sad but what I love about America is that we adapt. We change, we overcome, we improvise, and we grow. Some in our past have made horrible mistakes and I think that, for the most part, we as modern Americans can look at that and learn from it. Look, 1776 was only 242 years ago. Compared to the rest of the world, the United States is a child when it comes to our age. Younger than any other country, and yet the most powerful in history. Why is that? Because we are free. Because we have died for our freedoms. Because we have something precious here, and we can honestly only thank God for it, because at the end of the day, He's all that's left. 

Celebrate your 4th of July with good food, friends, family, and fireworks. Remember why we stop on this day to declare our independence to the world. Think about the painstaking suffering the Founding Fathers went through when founding this country, declaring their independence from what was, at that time, the most powerful military force on earth. How terrifying! And yet they did it. They stood their ground. They had a seed of an idea, and while it took some time to grow it and mold it, liberty took root here. If you have children, share with them the history of this country. Don't just leave it up to school or television - be involved. The only way this country's history will be appreciated and preserved is if you appreciate it and preserve it and pass that love down to the next generation. 

I love this country. I hope you do, too. 
Because there will never be another one like it. 

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