In just a few short days, those of us who live in the United States will be celebrating our Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July. Traditionally, the holiday is observed with parades, bar-b-ques and fireworks, and I’m sure this year will be no exception. Despite the many serious issues that our country is facing, I think it’s a good thing for us to acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of our nation and try to remember that, like it or not, we’re all in this together. My personal opinion is that we would do well to start concentrating far more on what unites us and far less on what divides us, but I know that is wishful thinking.
Still, when I think of Independence Day, it reminds me to be thankful for the freedoms I do have, and I’m not just talking about those that are guaranteed in our Constitution.
I may live in a world where there is far too much hatred and intolerance being spewed from all sides, but I am free to choose just exactly how I respond to it. I can join in the argument, trying to shout down those who disagree, or silence them with fear and intimidation. But I can also choose to express my own views confidently and politely, and to do my best to truly listen to those who see things differently. In other words, I have the freedom to decide if I want to add to the problem, or if I want to try to be one of the much-needed voices of tolerance and reconciliation.
I’ve never been particularly good at saying “no,” even when my schedule is already over-crowded with commitments. I know I have been blessed with a relatively good life, and I believe that I have a moral obligation to help others whenever I can. But I also need to remember that I have the freedom to create my own boundaries, and to protect myself from the overwhelming stress that comes from trying to take care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring my own. Freedom comes with responsibility, not only to others, but also to myself.
I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day, although I do hope I get the chance to see some nice fireworks and eat some good food. But I’m hoping that whatever I do, I’ll also remember to be thankful for my own personal freedoms to choose the way I want to live and the kind of person I want to be. And I hope that I’ll have the strength and wisdom to choose wisely, and live a life that is as free and independent of hate, guilt, intolerance and ignorance as I possibly can. Because I believe that’s the kind of independence that is truly worth celebrating.