Sometimes what I want to write and what I actually write wind up being two different things entirely.
Today is one of those times.
I wanted to write about the 4th of July because it’s my favorite holiday (as I’ve talked about before). I’d paint a picture of barbecue smoke hanging heavy in the humid air, how our hands and faces got covered with the sauce as we sucked every last rib bone clean and didn’t even leave room for the potato salad. Maybe I’d reminisce about hand-churned peach ice cream, the custard kind, and how you have to crank and crank and crank the freezer and how the ice cream tastes so much better when you have to work for it. I could have waxed poetic about sitting on the tailgate of somebody’s truck by the lake in Citronelle, listening to a chorus of cicadas and music from a distant radio waiting for the fireworks to explode in the sky, their reflections in the water making the display doubly beautiful.
But as I was thinking about what to write, those words didn’t come. The only words in my mind were written by someone else — Thomas Jefferson:
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.
This one sentence … on repeat. We all learned it in school, but have you ever stopped to really think about what we were reciting, what we were taught, what the words really mean?
“All men are created equal.” Now we all know that, nearly 250 years ago, while all men (and women) were created equal, they were not, in fact and in life, true equals. The writer himself was a slave owner, and thus a living contradiction. Women, especially married women, had few rights. To this day, people of color and women struggle for equality.
And “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But on this Independence day, I’m thinking of those who are unable to exercise these “unalienable Rights” because they are not independent. Whether shackled by poverty, hunger, addiction, lack of education, minimal opportunity, poor health, geography, war, who they love, or held by chains, bars, and cages, there are many, many among us who do not have the liberty to exercise their most basic rights — rights that are not given to them by man, but endowed by God.
The Declaration of Independence is a powerful document. If you haven’t read it, you should … in its entirety, not just the part you know by heart. You can find the whole thing here. It is an admirable sentiment and an ideal toward which we should all continue to strive, because we’re not there yet.
I only have to drive two blocks in any direction from my lovely, cushy condo to see what lack of independence looks like and the effect it can have. I urge you to take a look around your hometown too. And when you do, think about the words “all men are created equal” and remember that their God — your God — gave them the same rights that you have to enjoy “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” unencumbered, unjudged, and unthreatened.
Today, like so many of you, I’ll be enjoying and appreciating my relative independence. I’ll eat a hotdog (probably two), some potato salad, and more than one bowl of homemade ice cream. I’ll sit by the pool and enjoy a cold beverage. I’ll watch the fireworks blast home the message of our continuing freedom in the greatest nation on earth.
And I’ll say a little prayer for all the ones who still won’t know true independence come July 5th.