Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Body Politic Could Use a Workout

Today is Independence Day and I have been giving much thought to independence and all that it entails. I have spent most of the day with a hacking, nasty cough and as such have been dependent on very strong prescription cough syrup. I must say it works like a charm, and I could easily become dependent on it. Really. I’m not coughing anymore, but will need to depend on someone else to help me walk straight until it wears off. Of course, I am in no hurry.

So I have been pondering the meaning of independence. It means liberty, freedom. For Janis Joplin, it was just another word for nothing left to lose. For Aretha Franklin, it meant letting your mind go. Freedom was an admonishment to think. They’re both right, of course. All the hot dogs and fireworks (and narcotic cough syrup) aside, I love the inherent dichotomy of a concept like freedom. Today more than any other day, we repeat platitudes, such as ‘freedom isn’t free’ and my favorite, by Abe Lincoln, ‘Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.’

This day embodies the genesis of our nation. It is a reminder to us as a body politic that our greatest freedoms and liberties are extremely costly. And sadly, this feeling of elation for the nation is fleeting. Our thoughts turn from ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ to ‘the Lancome free gift with purchase and the Braves vs. the Mets.’ We’re so filled with pride today, but then we have to get back to reality because we have to be back at work on Monday and the light bill is due and the kids will be starting back to school soon and Little Suzy starts soccer this week and on and on. So that nascent nationalism begins to recede, and the puffed up pride becomes a mere bloat, and we go on with the really important stuff. It’s rather like Christmas. We get into this joyous feeling of giving, and then the day after Christmas, we start bitching about how we’re going to pay for all this and why does Aunt Mildred always send me an outfit in a size two petite when she KNOWS I haven’t been that size since first grade! The joy of giving turns back into the day to day effort of living, and paycheck to paycheck at that.

There are those among us who do fight for freedom every day. Men and women across the country are fighting against Prop 8. Americans of Middle Eastern descent are fighting for fair elections in Iran, and a young woman named Neda has become the voice of a nation who yearns to be free. American men and women serve across the globe, not because they agree or disagree with the preferences of their fellow Americans but because they are willing to die to safeguard our ability to have those preferences, to speak freely, and to execute free will.

Regrettably, it often takes a calamitous event to re-engage our allegiance; a September 11, a terrorist act, or a war. There is nothing so heartbreaking, yet poignant, as a fellow American laying down his or her life to guarantee our rights, and those of our children, and their children. Imagine the cost to the parents and spouses and children that they leave behind. There is no conceivable amount that can convey the cost of that sacrifice, for no one person bears that cost. No one person suffers the loss. So independence is more a network, no, a brotherhood, of inter-dependence.

Freedom is expensive, and our most precious civil rights are extraordinarily costly. Inclusion and freedom aren’t cheap, and they certainly aren’t free. So while we’re gobbling up picnic fare and watching fireworks, drinking beer and singing the fervid songs that we too rarely trill, let’s hang onto this feeling. Freedom isn’t free. Let’s be worth the cost.

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