This morning I sat down at the breakfast table where my son was happily slurping up his bowl of cereal. I told him that it was the first day of July, to which he excitedly asked, “Does that mean the Fourth of July is coming up?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed.
The Fourth of July is my most favorite holiday to celebrate. I love all of the holidays, see here and here and here. But for so many reasons, Fourth Of July takes spot Number One in my heart. I’m a forever summer girl. Like, I’d probably be fine with just summer all year long. With sunsets at 9pm and burgers grilled out on the patio with the sweetest summer fruit for dinner every night. Yes. I’d be fine with letting my kids stay up late and then sleep in the next morning all year long. I love slow pool afternoons and suntanned cheekbones and running the sprinklers in the evenings and neighborhood walks under bursting crepe myrtles. And on I could go.
And Fourth of July is so “American Summer” that it just automatically steals my heart because it falls right smack in the middle of my most favorite season.
And then he asked me a real question… “What do we celebrate on the Fourth of July?”
And I paused.
Because I love our great country. And I am forever grateful to live here. But I know it’s all very heated right now. So I contemplated my answer. And I thought, well, it’s always been heated.
Ultimately I wanted him to know that this is a day of celebrating the history of our past and at the same time, the hope of our future.
So I began.
The Fourth of July is when we celebrate our freedom, our independence. I told him how he’d probably learn this story in a year or two at school, but that a long time ago, there were people who wanted to be free from the restrictions and laws of their own countries. Those countries happened to be on the other side of the world and weren’t always fair or just in the way they did things.
We talked about how almost everyone who lives here today had a great-great-great grandparent who rode on a boat across the entire ocean to arrive here. And they came for lots of different reasons from all over the world and that’s why we all look so different from one another here. But the countries on the other side of the world still wanted to control them. And on the Fourth of July, almost 250 years ago, the people here signed a document called the Declaration of Independence, saying that they intended to be free.
What they did was quite rebellious and scandalous. And there were all kinds of horrible things that happened along with it. Battles and soldiers and so many people who died because they believed that freedom was worth fighting for.
He shook his head in understanding.
I went on. And although there was so many terrible things that happened, there was some remarkable things that happened too. The people who lived here created the United States of America. And they wrote laws and created a new society. They worked together to write rules for their new country that would protect the people from a monarchy and allow for growth and change while remembering their original intentions.
And as the years went on, there was more remarkable and terrible that happened. People learned that some of the old ways of doing things wasn’t necessarily correct and they modified the laws. Things like slavery and who was allowed to vote and who could own their own property. They fought for unity and peace as they learned and grew. The people of this country have always been a bit rebellious. And they’ve not ceased to continue to seek to learn and grow from their past mistakes.
And he shook his head a little slower.
And I bet he wished he hadn’t asked. Or that my answer had been more shallow. Maybe about apple pie and fireworks and lake days and BBQ. So I wrapped it up with this until another day and we cleaned up our breakfast.
My darling, I said to him. Don’t ever forget how lucky you are to live here. To be free to pursue your dreams. To be free to stand up for what’s right without being accused of treason. Don’t ever forget that freedom is for all of us. That we should always strive for justice that is fair and grace that is deep. Because, no doubt, we’ll keep making mistakes…as individuals, as groups and as a nation, but we live in a place where there’s freedom. And even though there will always be room for improvement, don’t let that turn your heart away from gratitude for all of the good that’s here. Let it motivate you to do more good. Let it cause loyalty to grow. For the sake of liberty and justice for all.