Independence Day, the 4th of July, the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Two hundred and forty-three years ago, men of privilege and of wealth risked all they had, their very lives so that they, their children and their children’s children could be free of tyranny, of oppression, of taxation without representation. Above and beyond, over and under all their hopes and dreams and prayers was one concept, independence.
Those fifty-six men, our signers of the Declaration of Independence wanted to be free to determine their own lives, their family’s lives and to secure that same choice for future generations. This concept of self-determination is a such a cornerstone of the American psyche today because of those men, yet we too often take this remarkable idea for granted today.
We are free because generations before us risked everything they had including, their very lives to secure that freedom for us. Each generation since has benefited from their bravery, and each generation since has, as Thomas Jefferson said, refreshed the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots. America is a concept worth fighting for, even if those fighting don’t live to see the hard-earned peace their sacrifice helped secure.
Of those original fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, nine fought and died in the war that followed and five were captured, tortured and died. Two sons of the signers also died fighting and two others were captured and tortured but lived. Twelve had their homes and livelihoods burned to the ground. The moment those men signed that document they knowingly sealed their fate, yet they did it anyway. These were men of privilege, merchants and lawyers and landowners and farmers who literally risked all they had, their lives and their family’s lives for an idea, for self-determination.
I am frequently asked how to honor my son, one of those whose blood has nourished that tree under which we all have been sheltered these past two hundred and forty-three years. This seemed a complex question, one with which I struggled, particularly in this divisive time.
I’d like to say it was a great epiphany set against one of the very many remarkable moments in which I’ve been blessed to participate. I’ve been fortunate to visit our Nation’s Capital on Memorial Day and to walk the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve been to the Mall in D.C., visited the Capital, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the White House. I’ve been overwhelmed at parades, monuments and ceremonies for those who gave their last, full measure, and for those who served and returned to the country they risked their lives to protect and defend.
After all the places I’ve been, all the somber and joyous, heart breaking and soul-fulfilling moments I’ve witnessed, the dawn of realization broke for me in the most mundane of places.
Sitting in my backyard one early spring morning in the quiet, two words came to me. This, this is what we do, this is how we honor and respect and recognize and thank all those who risked their lives for this greatest experiment in human society. This is how we thank them for their sacrifice. This is how we carry on their legacy and pass it on to the next generation. Two words.
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