Friday, July 2, 2010

Have we ceased to be good?

It's July second. America is ramping up for its 234th Fourth of July as a free people. The RV's are on the road, the grills are being primed. The boats are on the water and the sparklers are close at hand. After nearly two years of down times and a summer coated in oil, Americans desperately want to celebrate; something. Anything. Immediately. Maybe it's time to remember what we really have and what we are called to be.

The 4th of July is always a day of mixed emotions for me.

A few decades ago (how many I'm not saying) I took a water ski to the head while dropping one to slalom ski. I did it in spectacular fashion, in front of the dock of my uncle's lake home...with my fiance standing on the dock and my entire extended family assembled on the grass overlooking the lake. Lots of blood and several stitches at an emergency room later, I only hazily remember the fireworks. Skip a few more years and the 4th of July was spent on a houseboat up the St. Croix River above Stillwater, Minnesota; lazy days, fireflies and volleyball games with strangers who became friends wherever we anchored the boat.

This day sixteen years ago, Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the USA” had hit the top of the charts and we left on a plane for Russia to bring home our new daughter. We spent the 4th of July touring the Kremlin and that evening I had a conversation with our home host; his first free conversation with a westerner in his entire life. I learned that during the Bay of Pigs (I know, some of you are going to have to look that up!) he was living in Cuba and his father was the Russian Ambassador.

Skip forward to the 4th of July 2002; spent with Mother and my children at the patriotic, small town fireworks in Amery, Wisconsin. Our emotions were still raw from the 9-11 attack, and “Proud to be an American” rang in our hearts and minds. I can still smell the damp grass, and the acid smell of the explosions and feel my joy at being with family again. I remember oohing and awing with the crowd assembled for the quite-good small town display, thinking to myself, “This is as close to the real America as we can get.”

We American's love to celebrate our freedom; beacon of light, hope for the world, and all of that. Quite a few folks believe that freedom is wrapped up in an American flag and guaranteed by a concealed gun barrel. Along with many people I ardently believe in personal freedom. I know it has been paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fought to keep us free. But they did not die so that we could be free to do whatever we darn please; they died so that Americans would be free to fulfill the goodness we all carry within us.

I believe in the responsibility that comes with that freedom. I believe that we are kept free just as much by a free press as by the point of a gun. I believe we have a responsibility to seek the truth, from our candidates, our elected officials and those whose job it is protect the rights of all citizens, not just a few. I believe that capitalism fulfills its potential when we hold corporations accountable, not just to their shareholders, but to their employees and to the communities in which they operate. I believe that with freedom comes the personal responsibility to give back “for my community, my country and my world.” (And that folks, is how the last line of the 4-H pledge ends, as a proud alum, I can still remember the entire thing!)

In perspective, 234 years isn't very long in the history of the world. The next chapter of our history is up to us. As Alexis de Toequeville concluded: “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

I believe in the goodness in all of us. And now I believe I should get off my 4th of July soapbox and get the brats ready!

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