Carl Sandberg said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the life should go on.” It’s also the only way a nation can continue. Without children there is no future and a country failing to realize that truth is doomed.
Five days before the anniversary of America’s birth God made His opinion known through the life of my new Granddaughter Emily Grace Wheeler. She bears one of the more pronounceable surnames of her many ancestors but as they said about the Poet Sandberg, she is "indubitably an American in every pulse-beat."
Emily’s DNA reflects the story of America. Three races, nearly a dozen ethnicities, immigrants and Native American’s with all of their collective histories on this continent and others flow through her bloodlines. All were united by one thing becoming Americans one way or another.
Some came with Cadillac to found Detroit. Some were already living here and some came in deathly ships as kidnapped slaves. Others came through Ellis Island looking for the American Dream or as the spouse of an American soldier. Some were fleeing starvation in Ireland. Some were refugees from Hitler’s concentration camps and Stalin’s aggression.
Emily’s roots in this country are deep and old yet her heritage is global. Nothing is more American.
Simply be being born in her parent’s hometown Emily is by the power of the highest law of the land a citizen of the greatest nation on the face of the earth with all the rights and responsibilities such a privilege entails. Babies born the same day at the same time just as healthy, innocent and loved in various countries throughout the world face starvation, war, disease, and other horrors, will never see their first birthday and we all will be the worse because of it. Emily will be raised with an attitude of gratitude and learn with every right there is a corresponding responsibility.
Next month she will baptized by her priest Uncle into the Faith many members of her family have held for centuries and learn Grace is not simply her middle name. It will build on the nature of Emily as she learns the Cross is the key to salvation along with Matthew 25, faith and reason work together to find Truth, the vulnerable, poor and innocent must always be defended, justice is required and Mercy is demanded. Yet with a diversity of family beliefs she will know our Father’s house has many mansions and though words are important actions speak louder. Emily Grace will also know the Mother of God. Lastly she will be told no person can ever be too kind, too forgiving or love too much and that God is Love. Emily has the liberty to be fully Catholic and fully American!
If you could sum up the essence of America in only one word, it would be Liberty. No other nation cherishes or protects freedom like America. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the Government for a redress of grievances and the most precious of all---- freedom of speech.
Without free speech nothing else would matter. Free speech gives us the power to exercise all the other freedoms. Without it we wouldn’t have the words or thoughts to operate a free press, call for a peaceful assembly, petition our Government or even form our own prayers.
Her parents and others will teach Emily this and that this freedom we celebrate was purchased by the blood of heroes, many from her own family, and she must never forget such a debt and remember it forever. She will also learn freedom must be exercised under the prudence of a well-formed conscience or it’s not real freedom at all.
Most important of all Emily will know laughter and understand its healing power. She will learn laughing at herself and WITH others is the only way to feel its pure joy and power. Without a sense of humor life doesn’t make sense.
And I pray for many years, though that is not up to me or her, this Grandpa will hear Emily laugh at many 4th of July family parties and firework displays and indulge my stories of family Independence Days past and that someday she reads the Fourth of July Reflections of the Last Dinosaur.
Happy Fourth Em! They hate it when I call her that but it doesn’t stop me, a Grandfather has privileges.
Independence Day or the 4th of July is one of the few major American holidays where the date is central to the celebration. New Year’s Day and Veteran’s Day on November 11th are the two others. Thanks to Congress and commerce Memorial Day has become a movable feast. Even the commemoration of arguably our most famous holiday Christmas on December 25th is not a result of the direct birthday of Christ but the Roman Catholic Church’s designation of its observance and the Eastern rite Churches celebrate the sacred event on the Epiphany, January 6th.
After all birthdays cannot be changed, and the 4th of July is the birthday of the United States of America now 235 years old, certainly worth a major celebration. From coast to coast in cities large and small parades, picnics, and community events will honor the anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence. Dogs and suds, hamburgers and sodas will be consumed with gyros, pizza, kielbasa, tamales, egg rolls, Italian sausage, pita bread with hummus and other delights now part of our nation’s rich culture and as American as the Red, White, and Blue!
At dusk citizens will gather for spectacular displays of fireworks exploding across our nation’s skies. A great time will be had by all and people will go to bed believing the observance was done right.
But was it? The ritual was there. What about the reverence? Do most really know what they were celebrating and commemorating?
Things have changed even over my lifetime. How many people, especially young ones, can recite the Declaration of Independence or even parts of it?
Would they know who wrote and signed it? Where and when? Of course everyone, yes even Sara Palin and Al Franken, would say July 4th and get 1776 right, but I doubt Philadelphia would be remembered as where.
To many, Ethan Allen is a furniture company and John Hancock sells insurance. History is forgotten and we are suffering for it.
A birthday after all is not just an anniversary of when a person was born, but the celebration of their life. The same is true of a country, or should be. Is it though? I wager most Americans, again even the former Governor of Alaska and the junior Senator from Minnesota, if asked what Independence Day means will answer freedom.
That speaks to our nation’s character about our fundamental beliefs and what we stand for as a people. Even after all these years Americans realize Independence represents freedom and that is a good thing. If you ask them what kind of freedom, many will say freedom from an all-powerful and tyrannical government and then rattle off the bill rights confusing the Declaration with the Constitution, an honest mistake made by many elective officials that should know better. A large number would say the freedom to be left alone another deep seated American belief and not too different from the original founders.
Still people nowadays confuse liberty with license, forgetting with rights come responsibilities something those men in Philadelphia who signed the Declaration understood extremely well.
When I was young (yeah I know I sound like a fogey but as a Baby Boomer we think everything happens in context to us so when we were young everyone was) the Greatest Generation was in their prime. They had conquered in World War II, got a draw in Korea, and were building the best economy the world had ever known and one of their own was in the White House. Patriotism and American exceptionalism were at their zenith and even the Moon and stars seemed within reach. On the 4th of July in the early ’60s celebrations and parades were attended and participated in by Americans that understood the true meaning of freedom and the Declaration of Independence. The Spirit of 76 lived.
Heroes of Normandy, Anzio, Midway and other legendary battles marched with uniforms that still mostly fit and in their footsteps walked cub and boy scouts in awe following the footsteps of giants we loved and wanted to be like. Over the years we have lost our way at times, but it seems whenever we can find those old footprints they still take us in the right direction.
When flags passed we saluted if we were in uniform and placed our hand over our heart when wearing ordinary clothes. In school we were taught about the American spy Nathan Hale and how he regretted “only having but one life to give for my country,” Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, the ride of Paul Revere, Washington crossing the Delaware, Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, John Nixon first reading of it publicly. We had to memorize it ourselves.
Does that happen today? If not maybe it should.
Now especially when politicians, parties, and movements try to highjack our founding fathers and documents for their own purposes, history needs to be studied and remembered. Not just for our own sake but for the sake of future generations.
In the heart of the Declaration of Independence below we find our compass. May we forever follow its guidance as it charts for us the course of true freedom.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
America and its foundation belongs to us all. The principles put forth in the Declaration and Constitution are worth dying for, but they are also worth living for and living up to. Happy Fourth of July!