This year we have no plans for picnics. No fireworks. No parades or crowds or trips to the beach. It’s a different kind of year. We’ll stay home. Do some reading. Get a few projects done. Mow 20 acres of Christmas tree fields at our farm.
When you mow 20 acres, you have plenty of time to think. This weekend I expect I will continue to think about what Independence Day means in 2020. What is independence? Freedom? How do we experience it? It is equitably distributed across our country? In an era of COVID. Of George Floyd. Of economic uncertainty. What does it mean to be free and does it come with responsibility and expectations attached?
I’ll think about Frederick Douglass, the former slave and celebrated abolitionist. I’ll wonder again why exactly I chose to do my book report on him in the third grade. And I’ll be grateful once more that I did, knowing that his words planted in my young mind seeds of courage, reform, justice and equality for all people.
NPR just published a short video of Frederick Douglass’ descendants reading excerpts from one of his famous speeches to a group of abolitionists the day after Independence Day in 1852. His great, great, great grandchildren. I’ll be thinking about his powerful words and how they relate to our challenges around race yet today, almost a century and a half later. Watch the video to the end.
I’ll think about the heated rhetoric I see on social media lately and the return of the call to love it or leave it. Our country, that is. It’s a common refrain when there is criticism. If you don’t like America, get out! But for me, the message rings hollow. It misses the point. And it’s damaging to the core.
You can both love something and want it to be better. When our marriage hits bumps and Karen and I voice our frustrations, it’s never with the thought of leaving, but with an eye toward improvement. We can do better and sometimes we need our eyes opened when we are off track.
We are, collectively as a nation, in pursuit of our more perfect union, and that’s often a messy process. We ended slavery. We extended the vote. We eliminated unjust laws. And it all came with bumps along the way, but thank God for the bold people who were unwilling to settle for the status quo. That work is not done.
I’ll be thinking about that. And I hope you will, too.
Happy 4th of July.