The Fourth of July brings to mind American Flags, parades, fireworks, BBQ and, where I live, country music. If you are like me, the start of the national anthem causes you to stand up, place your hand over your heart and look around for the United States flag. Tears well in your eyes, your chest swells and you are thankful to be an American. If the national anthem is followed by a rendition of Lee Greenwoods’ God Bless the USA, it can lead to swaying, hugging and tears streaming down your face.
My earliest memories of July 4th include a parade made up of a few cars and a fire truck in a small town in Georgia in the early 1970s. The parade traveled so fast that, instead of walking the route and shaking hands, we drove and waved out of the back window of our car (with Dad’s campaign sign on the top, of course).
And that was just the early morning parade. Our July 4ths often ended, after numerous other parades and BBQ’s, with our family watching fireworks at the lake in our hometown of Carrollton. These memories made a lasting impact on me and helped me understand and appreciate the importance of being an American.
Last week, my daughter Maggie and I were in Washington where we visited the National Archives . It houses the Charters of Freedom, which include the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Together these documents form the foundation of our nation.
As we waited in line at the rotunda to see these Charters of Freedom, Maggie asked, “What do these mean?” I explained to her that The Declaration of Independence is like her birth certificate, that it is the document that records the birth of our country. July 4th, the date of its signing, is celebrated as our country’s birthday. Now this is a concept that she can understand, birthdays are important and cause for celebration in our family.
Maggie then asked what she would be if the United States had not been born. “An English subject,” I replied. Her eyes widened as she began to absorb the meaning. She decided that she was glad that the United States was born, as am I.
As we get older, birthdays change from pure celebrations of life to a chance to reflect on the past and plan for the future. My husband’s grandmother (Granny) turned 90 last week. All of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren (21 in all) joined her for a celebratory weekend at her home in South Georgia.
Granny is an amazing woman. She begins each day with exercises, reads the local paper, and the New York Times on weekends, attends book clubs, bridge clubs and reads the Economist weekly. I often joke that I have to brush up on current events before visiting her, but it is no joke.
Granny is the first to tell you that maintaining her good health and intellectual abilities takes work and effort, every day. Contrast this with others who might have determined it is too much effort to get up and exercise every day, the papers are too long to read and community activity too demanding to participate in.
As Americans, we need to remember that, in order to maintain our nation’s intellectual and physical health, we need an active and involved citizenry. Just like any organism, without movement and growth we will stagnate and wither. Understanding what Americanism is provides a framework within which we can stretch, grow and move.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, once stated, “We want to make our children feel that the mere fact of being Americans makes them better off….. This is not to blind us at all to our own shortcomings; we ought steadily to try to correct them; but we have absolutely no grounds to work on if we don’t have a firm and ardent Americanism at the bottom of everything.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger echoed the sentiment. “I believe with all my heart that America remains ‘the greatest idea’ that inspires the world. It is a privilege to be born here. It is an honor to become a citizen here. It is a gift to raise your family here, to vote here and to live here.”
I totally agree. It is important for the children of our nation to understand why America is different.
Possibly the Declaration says it best:
“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..”
It’s impossible to tell where our nation is on its growth path. We can only see where our country has been, and then dream of where we together as Americans might take it. We are blessed to be in the freest, most prosperous nation in history. With this blessing comes a responsibility, to pass along to our children and our grandchildren a free, prosperous, country in which they can pursue their own life, liberty and happiness.
As I was leaving the National Archives yesterday, I read an inscription on a statue facing the mall: “The Heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.” This is so true.
Let us as parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends teach and remind our children of the heritage of our nation’s past so that their future might be even brighter than ours.
God bless the USA.