As I’m sitting here in the peace and relative quietude of my house, decompressing from the long weekend, I’m reflecting on my July Fourth holiday. (Yes, for the record, I can still process thoughts clearly after all that sun and booze, thank you very much.) I’m thinking about all the different ways that people everywhere celebrated the day and how Independence Day means so many different things to so many different people.
For so many, it’s a day when we get to drape ourselves in red, white, and blue and take extra amounts of pride in the fact that we live in a place where we can come and go and think and speak as we please. For others, it’s a day when we wish ourselves a happy anniversary or honor the kind and selfless souls who protect our freedom. For some it’s a day off from work or it’s tons of charcoal and lighter fluid and patriotic beer koozies or it’s fireworks and buckets of Sweet Baby Ray’s.
But mostly, it’s about being free. Because without that freedom, we wouldn’t have all those other things. We just wouldn’t.
I’m talking about the freedom we have day in and day out to live our life the way we choose to live it. About how we get to decide our own career path and our own relationships and where we work and how we play.
What I’m not talking about is the kind of freedom we have to choose a grapefruit shandy versus lemon or a hot dog over a hamburger or whether to wear eyeglasses just as a fashion accessory even when we have 20/20 vision. Even though most of us enjoy those kinds of privileges every day, they’re the incidentals, the byproducts of our real freedom. I’m talking about the big-ticket stuff. About being able to choose to marry a man or a woman or being able to vote or dress like the opposite sex or speak our mind regardless of what our opinion may be. Or to worship or not to worship. That’s the stuff swirling in my head today.
See, as I sat around people watching over the weekend, as I so often do over the Fourth of July, it occurred to me that we’re all far luckier than we even realize, sitting in our little lawn chairs playing Bocce and flipping burgers. We all know we’re free, sure, but we don’t spend enough time really focusing on what that truly means and how it impacts our day to day. We put our hand over our heart during the Star Spangled Banner and then we’re right back to lighting sparklers. And I just think we need to preserve that feeling all the time somehow.
Most of us living in a free country aren’t oppressed, obviously, so we don’t consciously think about oppression. We’re not living under a dictator, so we don’t think about how it might feel to have someone else making all the decisions for us. We’re not rationing food or water so we don’t think about what it’s like to be hungry or malnourished. We just don’t. We have no reason to. You know, out of sight, out of mind in most cases.
But we should. We should be acknowledging and treasuring the liberties that we have every single day. We should be grateful that we’re free to drive to the nearest Pump N Pantry at 2AM to satisfy that craving for Cool Ranch Doritos. Free to shave only one half of our head if we want. Free to stroll into a grocery store and buy any kind of food we feel like eating. But of course we don’t think of it that way. We’re so used to the independence we have that we’re flying on autopilot most of the time. We don’t think of these things as privileges. Yet they are.
Because, when we’re free, every day of our lives, living with few, if any, real restrictions, we often take that freedom for granted. We forget that there were times in history, very recent history, when it wasn’t so easy to live freely. In fact, it was near impossible.
That’s why these rights we have need to be celebrated and talked about and openly appreciated and cherished. Every day. By all of us. I think that the spirit and patriotism and gratitude that we feel on Independence Day needs to extend to every other day of the year. And, most importantly, it needs to extend down to our kids.
We can’t forget how lucky we are. And it’s our job to teach them how lucky they are.
So let’s do that, ok? Let’s try to all be a little more present and grateful and humble about this amazing gift we have. Let’s pass that feeling of appreciation on to our kids and have them ultimately do the same. Because that’s how we affect the collective consciousness. That’s how we humble people and soften their thinking and influence their behavior. Well, it can’t hurt anyway.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.facebook.com/thelisasugarman. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.