Saturday

Birth of a Nation - What We Celebrate

Independence: Exemption from reliance on, or control by, others.
I am a Civil War Reenactor. For the past 6 years, instead of attending the local rodeo, parades or barbeques, I have helped entertain and educate hundreds of interested public who come to see why anyone would pay to sweat in woolen uniforms or hoop skirts and camp in canvas for the weekend.
My friends and I strive to relate to folks what the issues were of the day, how the period history affects them today, and why it is important to be aware of this critical point in our nation's past. But after living in a military camp 12 hours a day, and hiding our non-period food coolers (gasp!), the public trickles away. The park gates close, the campfires start to twinkle, and pops start sounding from nearby fireworks shows. At dusk, our announcer calls to the artillery to start their show, and we dwarf surrounding towns for miles with full pound loads of black powder shooting flame from steel wool-lined barrels. Needless to say, I haven't been missing the rodeo scene much.
But this year, listening to the ground-shaking booms and cheers of the reenactor crowd, I started thinking about independence. As a history buff, history has started following me around. I can't get it off my brain. So naturally, I thought about what independence used to mean, versus what it means today. A religious radio/cassette series I listened to with my sisters as a child held the humorous, if clich├ęd boring teacher expounding on history. In the blandest voice imaginable he states, "1776 waas an exci-ting ye-ar." While this is frequently quoted and laughed at in my household, it scares me to realize that this attitude is more applicable in our nation today than ever before. The history of our freedom, and even worse, freedom itself have been reduced to a good thing our founding fathers did for us and a date to memorize in 5th grade. We are truly thankful (if we stop to think about it) that we "aren't like those other countries out there". We praise our military heroes for their service and bluster loudly around 9/11 about no one kicking around the good ol' US of A. We feel a swelling of pride and emotion for the 125 seconds it takes to sing our national anthem. And then we spend the rest of our year celebrating sparklers, good burgers, the baseball game and a day off from work.
What did independence mean the year our nation was born? The above definition was my personal favorite of the many I found. While children rely on their parents, charities rely on donations, the sick rely on doctors or medications, and your social networking game relies on hourly checks (those vegetables grow fast!) there is a serious line between reliance and control. When our forefathers conceived this great nation, a day of independence was not distant history. It was questionable future. Independence meant the death of loved ones in war, threat of prison for treason, often, the inability to buy food or supplies from blockaded ports, or political opponents destroying your home or business. Independence meant a lifelong struggle. Independence meant freedom from the control of a distant monarch who just needed tax money to run his own war-torn country. It meant fighting for all you were worth to obtain the right to protect your home and family. It meant pride in one's hard work in business, instead of your profits going to unreasonable taxes. In this and the surrounding years, independence from the control by England came to mean the establishment of the American dream, and the American identity. Through the blood of many good men, the sacrifices of their families, the passion of their statesmen, and the indomitable spirit of their work, independence became reality for that generation, and all the generations to follow. We took our first shaky steps as a baby nation. Though the struggle didn't end on the 4th of July, 1776, that is the day we stand as a community and a nation to recognize the brilliant beginnings of a completely unique democracy. From that day forward, we move to become a world power and a powerful force on global history. We still recognize some stirrings of pride or emotion for our country, but admit it: how often do you reflect on your day to day blessings as an American? How often do you scoff at the news headlines of some tyrannical dictator or another, without thinking of the millions of people his rule affects? You could be one of them. Instead you were born to be free, to thrive within your community of independent individuals, who make up a part of your state, where your opinion or vote can be presented to affect the ruling and government of a young but powerful nation. You can still choose to give up your money, your success, even your life in service of this country. You can say what you like, live where you decide, succeed in the field you pursue without threat of recrimination. YOU can influence our history.
Am I saying this is a perfect system? Am I claiming to be better than the rest of the world? Absolutely not. But our history shows too clearly the stain of humans trying to control other humans. Whether the Crusades, tribal warfare, the Ugandan genocide, WWII, and thousands of similar stories past and present, we can give examples of total control and the horrific effects it has on those under it's grasp. As a security curriculum I read states, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Corruption is not dead in our nation. But what our independence means to me is that I am free to give my life to making a difference. And I am free to always be thankful for those who do so. My husband commented on the veterans organization soliciting donations at the grocery store today. So many people see a group of kind, elderly men trying to take their money through pity plays. Whether I have cash or not is not the question. I see a group of heroes: true-blue, honest-to-goodness, everyday heroes, that understand a little better what real freedom is. Their families felt the sacrifice, their friends died in combat, their lives were altered forever. And do you think they care about the sparklers and the rodeo? I don't. I think they care about their buddies who never came home, their every breath that remains free, their community of friends-the few that understand what independence costs. Their history is our future, and their community is our living example. Of independence.

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