I’m often asked why my screen saver is the Lincoln memorial.
Why not my daughter or my baby dogs? Both are integral to my life, but not what I choose to see every time I look at my phone. I choose to see this small piece of American history that reminds me of the pride I felt when I visited Washington DC years ago. It reminds me of all the other monuments- to our valiant warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to the Holocaust museum built to force anyone daring to deny the destruction and genocide of millions, to the public access of our most precious documents, I choose to look at a symbol that inspires and gives me hope everyday. That no matter how some may try to pervert the basic tenets of this country, we will prevail. Regardless of the adversity thrown our way, the tenacity, persistence and unwillingness to give up can and will overcome anything.
Independence Day is a federal holiday that commemorates this momentous Declaration of Independence the United States made on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies would no longer be subject (and subordinate) to the monarchy of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states.
As Americans, we celebrate independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress. Historians have long disputed whether members of Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, even though Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote that they had. Most historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4th, as is commonly believed.
Regardless, this day represents a moment in history when a small, fledgling country said in a loud and resounding chorus -“No one can subjugate anther human being. Today, here and now, it is written, ‘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.’”
It took centuries to make clear this also was meant to include all races, genders, faiths, beliefs, and sexual preferences. And that we are a magnificent work in progress, constantly adapting to the changing times.
I grew up during the Cold War. For many a distant, hard to understand, alien concept. Not for those of us trained as elementary school kids on how to survive a nuclear attack! I kid you not. Imagine being shown films of mass destruction as a young child and being told standing inside a door frame or under your desk could protect you. Imagine neighbors building bomb shelters in their backyards to ward off the end of the world.
This was not a science fiction movie. This was not Hollywood. This was real life. And if truth was told we apparently came close to the brink far more times then anyone one wanted to admit. I was a toddler during the Bay of Pigs debacle, the failed invasion by Kennedy to overthrow Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. It ultimately helped to strengthen his leadership, made him a national hero, and began the decades long contentious relationship between former allies. It also strengthened the bond between Cuba and the Soviet Union. This eventually led to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This was a 13-day (October 16–28, 1962) confrontation between the US and the the Soviet Union initiated by an American ballistic missile deployment in Italy and Turkey with consequent Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. Just a frightening 100 miles off the US coastline. That confrontation is often sited as the closest the Cold War came to escalating into nuclear annihilation.
I was 18 when I traveled on a University whirlwind European trip over 6 weeks. I saw first hand what it meant to live in countries dominated by dictators, tyrants and bullies. Some considered benevolent – like Tito in Yugoslavia, until his death in 1980, to the brutal rule in a country marked by the division of a wall. No matter the term, they all sought one purpose- to control and subjugate their citizens. There was what we called “The Iron Curtain”. An impenetrable demarcation line dividing democracy from totalitarian regimes. Equally as insurmountable as the concrete wall erected in Berlin separating loved ones in the middle of the night. Living on the wrong side defined your life.
I walked through a concentration camp hearing the echoes of hundreds of thousands of voices snuffed out because they were Jewish, knowing full well I’d never exist if my family had lived in Europe instead of here. I remembered the story proudly shared about my great grandfather’s family at the turn of the 20th century who saved us from that fate. One boy was sent to America where we’d never be threatened or hurt again. A dream passed down from generation to generation. He dutifully worked to bring the next family member. Who then together worked to bring another until every family member was brought to a land where we were guaranteed survival 40 years later. Better known as “chain migration,” a means most of us today owe our citizenship to.
Only the U.S. stood out as a beacon, denouncing anything but freedom for all. Even when our own country was fraught with divisiveness over the Vietnam war and Civil Rights movement. The difference? Regardless of our strife, our perspectives or our perceived path forward, we always strove for unity. A road ahead that would converge not diverge from all our common goals- to achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
Our fore fathers knew there would be immense and unforeseen changes ahead, but the premise would never alter. That has always kept us from faltering too far, for too long, down a rabbit hole without recovery. At 18 I shouted slogans against the aggressors of the day never truly understanding the incredible right I had to say such things.
It wasn’t until I crossed multiple sealed borders of Yugoslavia, eastern Germany into West Berlin that I or any of the other college students had a taste of what tyranny and suppression really meant. It wasn’t until we walked across the “no mans land, ” filled with crosses of those willing to die for their right to cross unhindered from check point Charlie into East Berlin. It wasn’t until I let go of the fierce hold I had on my U.S. passport upon returning to the color and vibrancy of West Berlin that I realized the precious gift we were really fighting for back home. That hand print in an old passport still serves as a reminder any time I think freedom isn’t a hard fought, constant struggle we can’t ignore.
Every attack takes its toll and winnows away a piece until nothing is left. I never thought I’d see the Soviet Union break up or the Berlin Wall come down. As a child hiding under the desk to survive a nuclear holocaust I never thought such change could actually occur in my lifetime. But it did, over 3 decades ago!
We think change should be permanent. We lament having to fight for the same things over and over and over again. We grow tired and fear the mantle won’t be passed to our youth. That all the hard won prizes will be lost to a history never read or acknowledged. But that’s evolution. Two steps forward, one step back. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My daughter never learned how to protect herself from a nuclear bomb. But she learned an equally sobering message at age 11- the attacks on the New York World Trade Centers. It’s a fight that can’t be ignored, eased up on or rewritten. Threats against freedom and truth require a never ending, vigilante and constant willingness to defend at all costs. The Cold War ended because it became impossible to enslave a population and feed it lies that nothing better existed in an age of world wide communication. It became too easy to see the truth through the garbage spewed.
July 4th is a special day. It is the one day devoted solely to honoring our courageous ancestors for embarking on a hard won, difficult path to create a place unlike any seen on Earth. One based on freedom for all. One based on understanding we are a country of immigrants and its the rich diversity we each bring to the tapestry called America that makes us work. Just like evolution, our species is fortified and made stronger not by inbreeding only one desired group until we suffer from numerous disabilities and congenital weaknesses that ultimately destroy. That’s why marrying family members is outlawed- it kills off healthy generations. Intermingling diverse, broader backgrounds allows us to flourish and grow stronger.
I look towards the future, believing truth will win out. Believing that a country founded on principles where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is considered a right can overcome anyone or anybody. In the glow of fireworks we will remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure those freedoms.
We were birthed by our hatred of tyrants and the realization that only through a unified voice, equally and as loudly spoken as on July 4, 1776 will we survive to pass on to our children the cherished inalienable rights that make us great.
As the first thing our relatives’ tear-stained faces saw when they approached our shores with nothing but their hopes and dreams, the Statue of Liberty says it best-
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
From all of us at Courtney Medical Group, Happy July 4th.