At the tender age of 18, I was given an incredible gift- the opportunity to travel and see different cultures, lands and people. It was just a year after the Vietnam War had ended. Emotions were still raw and tension between generations, palpable. Gone were the days when children would unquestionably follow adults’ decisions and guidance. I was too young to truly understood the war’s consequences. But, surrounded by my sister, who as a law student was in the thick of the protests, and my brother, whose birthday was number one in this country’s very first lottery draft into the army, I felt its devastation personally.
Bruised and angry, families were ripped apart depending on their situation. People either viewed the war as the government claimed- that we were protecting democracy- or that the war was used as a tool for economic and political gains.
In that environment I traveled overseas. But not just anywhere. This tour promoted on every college campus included places far from the beaten path- East Berlin, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. Lands alien in their harsh rule and unyielding laws that denied everything we cherish.
It was in that atmosphere my fellow travelers and I learned the United States is far from perfect, but at least it’s still striving to improve. In West Berlin, I clutched my passport and crossed the “no man’s” zone into a grey and bleak East Berlin. I saw up close the crosses that marked those willing to pursue freedom at any cost. I can still remember the incredible relief and joy I felt when my feet passed through the United Stares portal at Checkpoint Charley into West Berlin. It had been set up as one of two entry ways established at the end of World War II, and the only one that physically allowed safe passage through the giant and deadly Berlin Wall into the colorless, oppressive East Berlin.
That night, thousands truly understood the meaning of July 4th when we celebrated it on an American base set up to protect all we hold dear from those wanting to destroy it just miles away.
This country is far from perfect.
This country has so far to go to achieve its goal of a more perfect union.
But, it’s the only one that has put those very words into the foundation of its doctrine and struggles to honor them.
That’s what a few dozen 18 year olds came to understood that amazing July 4th. As a nation, there is nothing we can’t do when we do it together. Just as the tiny island of West Berlin represented for decades, there is always a path to survival, and ultimately success, even when surrounded and completely overwhelmed by massive numbers.
The worst symbol of tyranny was finally pulled down by the Germans themselves on November 9, 1989.
This year, we have set a goal of tearing down our own wall and living a more normal life by July 4th. It’s been a year of such devastating losses, suffering and death it’s hard to image light at the end of the tunnel.
There is a magnificent twinkling in the distance.
With vaccines we can finally get protection from this lethal infection. But we aren’t there yet. Until we reach herd immunity- getting the vaccine into the arms of 65-70% of this country’s population, we can’t let our guard down. Not when we are so close.
People ask me why I still wear a mask, socially distance, stay home when not working, if I’ve been vaccinated. I reply with my favorite Johnny Carson story. He was a well known late-night talk show host from 1962 until 1992.
One night he had on Chuck Norris, the star of popular martial arts movies with 6 black belt titles to his name, and asked, “It’s the middle of the night and five guys jump out to attack you, what do you do?”
Chuck Norris responded, “I run like crazy”
Johnny Carson, clearly flustered by the response and expecting a show of Chuck Norris’ talents asked, “Then why have all your skills if we’re both just going to run away?”
Chuck Norris looked him in the eye and replied, “Because I run with confidence!”
Right now that’s what the vaccine imparts- life-altering comfort in knowing I won’t be hospitalized or die from a COVID infection.
Now is not the time to stop. Not when we are so close. If we all put aside our differences, our anger, our frustrations, our politics and continue to listen to the science, we will not only be able to run with confidence but without the shackles that have bound us for far too long.
Let’s make sure not one more life is lost when we are so close to victory.
July 4th has always been a day to honor the resiliency, stamina, freedoms and fortitude of the American people. It’s the perfect day to finally be able to stand side by side, without fear, and celebrate together.