Today, Americans observe the most intensely patriotic of the United States' national holidays. July 4th celebrates the independence of the nation and it honors the individual freedom that is the bedrock of our democracy. Americans' celebration of the 4th is almost always exuberant, but it is often touched with the understanding that such joy should be tempered by an appreciation of those whose deeds and lives were and are central to the nation's independence. That's especially so this year.
To be sure, today's holiday will be marked in the same way that it has traditionally be celebrated. There will be picnics and parties, ball games and excursions to mountains and to the shore. There will be parades and fireworks. Readings of the Declaration of Independence will be offered in many places and this being an election year, political speeches will abound. That's typical for the holiday.
There are many Americans, though, who will be unable to join the celebrations. Some are in the nation's service far from home. Others are resident in the United States, but their circumstances -- often through no fault of their own, -- are such that any holiday festivity is beyond their means. Both groups should be in our thoughts and prayers, and their service and their plight, respectively, should be remembered today.
The men and women in the U.S.. military in Afghanistan and numerous other places around the globe willingly and repeatedly risk their lives for the freedoms that today's holiday celebrates. Their sacrifices are immense, as are those of the families that await their return.
Other Americans are hard-pressed to celebrate the holiday at all. Many can't find work. Many who do have jobs still struggle to feed, house and clothe their families on their earnings. Americans from all walks of life increasingly find it difficult to provide adequate health care and education to those they love. Political partisanship and the economic disparities that flow from it make their participation in the American dream difficult if not impossible at this juncture in history.
Even so, almost every American continues to believe in the essential goodness of their fellows and in the principles that undergird the nation. Almost none, even those in difficult circumstances, would forsake the democracy, the individual rights and personal freedoms that the United States still promises to all.
That enduring belief is testament to the wisdom and the courage of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence 236 years ago. Those men believed that tyranny had no place in the new nation they were creating. They believed, too, that the nation they hoped to create would exact a cost from them. For many of the signers, that proved correct. Still, they were willing to sacrifice their "Lives," their "Fortunes" and their "sacred Honor" to secure the blessings of freedom. Their literal and spiritual descendants follow their lead.
Americans continue to honor those ideals. They continue to argue about the best way to build a democracy and to unite rather than divide the populace along economic, political, social and religious lines. Through it all, though, the embrace of freedom has remained constant.
Despite the difficulties and the divisions that currently fragment the nation, the United States remains what Washington, Jefferson, Adams and the other giants of 1776 envisioned. It is a place where freedom reigns and where almost everyone continues to believe that liberty and justice for all are the watchwords of a great nation and its people. It is that belief that we celebrate today.