This year, as I began to think about my column due to appear on the Friday before Independence Day, I went back to review the “Fourth of July” columns I’ve written in years past. The following is a revised version of one I wrote in 2011. I like it because it’s still very relevant.
I thought about what approach I should take with a group to appear on the 4th of July. He can be light-hearted and nostalgic. Today, after all, is festive. There are parades, fireworks, cooking with sausage, cold drinks and sometimes homemade ice cream. There are family get-togethers with tall tales, kids chasing lightning bugs at twilight, boat rides on lake excursions and trips to the coast.
Fourth of July is all that.
Or the column could be more bleak. We could go back to a hot summer in Philadelphia, where serious men met in rooms without air-conditioning to decide, not so much whether the 13 colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America should be “free and independent nations,” but how that could be justified. I could speak of the red-headed Thomas Jefferson editing drafts of an advertisement by candlelight, to be edited by the likes of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
I can speak of how the serious men who signed that document were well aware of the brazenness of their desire to dissolve their relations with an empire spanning the planet, and how they could anticipate the desperate days, months, and years before them. My column could reflect on the seven years that followed, when everyone seemed lost so many times.
The Fourth of July is supposed to be about this story in the first place.
I can write about the Fourth of July another 87 years later, when tens of thousands of Americans, divided by the Civil War, met in battle elsewhere in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. That battle inspired a great president to deliver a short speech that has become one of our precious historical documents.
I’ve thought about it, as well as the Fourth of July in times of trouble.
The Fourth of July comes every year, after all, in thick and thin, in wartime and in peacetime. There was the Fourth of July 1918, when the Americans in France suffered from artillery bombardment and poisoned gases. There was one in 1942, when there wasn’t much good news anywhere.
Even in the best of times, like the late ’90s, there were problems somewhere. In 1996, when the economy was swaying, there were Americans in Yugoslavia under fire, and their families were well aware that they were.
The Fourth of July is also about the Fourth of July. Those that came in times of triumph, prosperity and peace, and those that rolled in times that were more difficult.
Well, obviously, I decided to write about all of the above. But how should I finish it? What conclusions should I draw?
One is that Americans at our best are proud of our heritage. We know there is something good about those hot July days in Pennsylvania in 1776 and 1863. We know we wouldn’t be what we are without Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Lincoln and others.
The other thing is that Americans continue to inspire their example. On this Independence Day you can celebrate safely because of the men and women watching at home and around the world, bound by their oath and will that you may enjoy another Independence Day.
And finally, I think Americans are still an optimistic people. I’m sure somewhere in 1863, in 1918, in 1942, there was a band playing, hot dogs were being served, kids were chasing lightning bugs. Americans know that we are called to walk through dark tunnels, but they always believe that every tunnel has a light at the end, and that we will find our way out.
This Independence Day comes at turbulent times. Many of them are still unemployed. We know that the world is still a dangerous place, and there are those who do us harm. There is a lot to think about. But we’ve been through much worse.
Until Monday, take a moment to think carefully. Take a moment to give thanks for our heritage. But it is the birthday of our country, and it should be celebrated too. Eat hot dogs. And don’t forget to chase lightning bugs.
Bob Arrington is an attorney at Kingsport. Email him at [email protected]