Whether it’s New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or an anniversary, I’m a big fan of using holidays and dates as milestones, as prompts for reflection or action.
The Fourth of July is a great example of how we can use a holiday to remind us to think about our deepest values. Of course, on every day of the year we should be thinking about our values—but I do think it’s helpful to have a nudge from the outside.
And this year of 2020, more than many other years in our national history, has been a time when many people have been thinking deeply about questions such as: “What are the true values of the United States?” “How must we, as a country, change and grow in order to live up to those values?” and, “What can I do, in my own life, to ensure that I and my fellow citizens are living up to its highest and most noble ideals?”
We live in a historic time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these issues to the fore, and even more so, the crucial protests and actions arising for racial justice.
There are many ways to articulate the ideals of the United States, and one familiar example comes from the the Declaration of Independence. I still remember memorizing part of it in seventh grade, including this paragraph:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
How our understanding of these words has changed since they were written in 1776! They were written long ago, during the founding of the United States, and their meaning has changed over time, and they will continue to change. We will never reach the end of understanding.
We want “liberty and justice for all,” and now is the time to make that happen.
I often write about my “America Feeling,” about the feeling I get when I vote, when I serve on a jury (twice), when I read the Declaration of Independence. The America feeling is an intense, transcendent feeling that often gets me choked up.
Here are a few of my favorites “A Little Happier” episodes about the America Feeling. You can read them or listen (they’re all about 3-4 minutes long):
- I Experienced My “America Feeling” at the Beaches in Normandy.
- I Get Choked Up When I Hear the Song “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music.”
- My “America Feeling” and the Statue of Liberty.
All of these “Little Happiers” are very appropriate to today, but perhaps this one is the very most fitting: “A Happiness Lesson from the Broadway Show “Oklahoma!” The song ends with Aunt Eller singing:
I’d like to teach you all a little sayin’
And learn the words by heart the way you should
I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t jist as good!
This song gives me such a strong America Feeling that I tear up every time I hear it. Because it’s one of the great dreams of the United States: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be danged if I ain’t jist as good.”
Now more than ever, the Fourth of July is a time to reflect on what must happen so that our nation can fulfill its promise.
I’ve been thinking and reading about this question non-stop. How about you?