Independence Day

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The 4th of July is one of the most anticipated days of the year.  It’s not the fanciest of holidays – there are no secret gift exchanges, no magical bunnies, no cards and no candies in heart shaped boxes.  It’s grand, however, grand and LOUD, with parades, brass bands, and fireworks marking the celebration in cities everywhere.  For sheer excitement, it can’t be beat.

The USA is home to many different folks with endlessly varying backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and political beliefs.   You would be hard pressed to find a single issue we all agree on – except freedom.  We Americans are serious about our freedom, and relish this day every year when we gather together to celebrate the founding of our nation.  It’s a holiday that transcends our differences and unites us under the promises of that long ago Declaration – that all of us should be treated as free and equal citizens, with the God given right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Every town and neighborhood across the nation has its own traditions surrounding Independence Day, but typically the focal point is a fireworks show that commences at dusk.  That’s certainly the norm for my own small town.  All day long, people gather to eat together at barbecues and parties.  Swimming pools are filled with friends and family, and lawn games such as ladder golf and horseshoes are happening in every yard.  In the evening, the neighborhood fills with hazy smoke from countless launchings of celebratory rockets.  Kids are running through backyards, fistfuls of lit sparklers in each hand, spinning in circles and playing tag in the dark.  High pitched whistles and echoing booms are heard repeatedly as streams of fireworks decorate the night sky.

At least that’s usually how the 4th goes around here.  This year might play out a little differently, thanks to a stubbornly wet weather pattern that we seem to have been enduring all summer.  As I type this, early on Independence Day morning, the rain is falling in steady sheets of water.  If the rest of the day plays out like this – and there is every indication that it might – then we might not see any parades, picnics, or fireworks today.

The weather pattern seems stuck across the nation this year.  While Americans in the Southwest will likely have to forgo fireworks due to the constant and terrible wildfire threat that hangs over those drought and heat stricken states, most of the eastern half of the country is paddling through endless puddles, swollen rivers, and daily thundershowers.  The day still stretches before me, though, and I nurture hope that the soggy weather will retreat and allow us our traditional celebrations.

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There is at least one creature, however, who won’t mind skipping out on the fireworks display this year – our family dog.  Every July 4th Gertrude can be observed attempting to insert her eighty pound body into the four inch space underneath the couch in an effort to hide from the noise.  Her entire frame shakes fearfully with each rocket fired, and she starts throwing hair like ticker tape at a parade.  She cannot be comforted; in fact, the more attention you give to her, the more afraid she becomes.  She’s miserable.  She might be trading one phobia for another, however, if the fireworks are cancelled due to thunderstorms.  It seems that one way or another her night is going to be an anxious one.

In the end, it won’t matter whether we can celebrate with rockets and parties, or gather inside to mark the occasion in more subdued fashion.   The meaning of the day is not defined by fireworks or parades.  It’s defined by the sacrifice of those who founded our nation.  For our freedoms come with a high price tag – the blood of our fathers, and the blood of those who continue to believe that some things are worth dying for.

Rain or shine, today I’m going to ponder the freedom I enjoy, and examine my heart to see if I’m using my freedom as I should.

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