America turns 234 years old on this latest observance of the Fourth of July. There is much that remains inspiring and remarkable about the United States and its origins. This country is in many ways a miracle and, even now, a lasting example of what human civilization can and should be.
However, the passage of time has also eroded much of the spirit which so thoroughly animated and motivated our Founders, the people who so bravely fought against overwhelming odds to give life and birth to a most amazing idea: That human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It's the final line of the Declaration of Independence which regularly stirs me. Contemplate the depth of sacrifice involved in the founding of America and the principles that made it great:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Gosh, that's nothing less than electrifying. This small band of citizens, seeing the flame of freedom snuffed out in their midst, didn't passively allow themselves to be consigned to such a fate. They acted - boldly, creatively, shrewdly, courageously, and with uncommon energy and scope - to establish the more perfect union that has benefited so many of us who call ourselves "American." It's really rather breathtaking.
So, the question begs to be asked: Are we, the American citizens of 2010, pledging to each other our (capital-L) Lives, our (capital-F) Fortunes, and our sacred (capital-H) Honor?
More to the point, what do we do as a nation on July 4 to show as much?
Seems to me the parades and the flags and the barbecues and the baseball and the fireworks and the John Philip Sousa are as far as we get... at least for 95 percent of us.
Without belaboring the point or going into a long stemwinder of a soliloquy, I propose two things:
1) In your own quiet moments and workings, find a simple way to help a fellow man or woman by giving a piece of your Life, Fortune or sacred Honor to a person in need of uplift.
2) Nationally, I propose that at 8 p.m. Eastern time on July 4, we spend one hour to simply mark the weight of the occasion in a plain manner the Founders would approve of. We should stop as a nation - much like Muslim societies do in their five-a-day calls to prayer - and gather around the television as all our networks (all of them!) broadcast one hour devoted to a commemoration of who and what we are as a Republic.
Have the Declaration of Independence be read out loud, followed by the Articles of the United States Constitution and their amendments. Have all our presidents' names vocalized (even the bad ones), have all our House speakers and Senate majority leaders named. Have all our Supreme Court chief justices named.
The exercise might seem small and minimalist to many, but it would be a way of educating our youth in a public manner and conveying the important, relevant idea that our history and heritage matter.
Why is this important to me? First of all, Americans are terrible at studying, let alone appreciating and cherishing, history in general. A populace more educated in history and civics is a population that is less prone to passively accept affronts to freedom and rights both communal and individual.
Secondly, though, I was inspired to conceive this idea because I live in Seattle. Several months ago, it was revealed that the city lacked the funds and sponsorships to stage its annual Fourth of July fireworks show over Lake Union. When this shortage of funds was announced, the people of Seattle reacted as though a profound human crisis had been encountered. The $500,000 needed to stage the show were quickly raised - in about 36 hours over the airwaves of the local talk radio station - and the city rejoiced.
Fireworks are all well and good - nothing wrong with a little holiday fun - but when they acquire such importance, centrality and urgency from the populace while far greater human needs go unmet in this city, it only affirms in Seattle what seems to be the case in America at large: We react more strongly in defense of our entertainments and comforts than in defense of the poor and of constitutional principles that sorely need our vigilant daily advocacy.
Please - do something meaningful for a neighbor on the Fourth of July. If you like the idea of a public reading outlined above, call your local congressional representative. I'll attempt to do these things myself.
I'll also not attend Seattle's fireworks show on the night of July 4, 2010.
It's time to make America - its values and the birthday which gave rise to them - more imbued with meaning. It's time to devote to America a little more of our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.