Ms. Independence Day

declaration-of-independenceThe meaning of the 4th of July is as diverse as the country it celebrates. True to “it’s a free country” form, for some it’s all about patriotism; others, it’s about hot dogs, beer, and fireworks; and on the other extreme, it might mean absolutely nothing to certain people.

For me, I’d say up until now, I felt fairly “meh” about this holiday. I mean, I waiver somewhere between patriot and hippy, both proud to be an American, and also sometimes ashamed of our country’s teenage-like “We’re cooler than you, so there!” judgmental attitude towards other countries and each other.

Take the recent SCOTUS decision on gay marriage – now legal in every one of our states, and it seems like such a “duh” in a country that’s all about freedom. And yet there’s still so many people who don’t just not like it, but will do whatever they can to stop it. Yikes!  I mean, I am vehemently opposed, personally, to country music, but I would never waste my time rallying to make it illegal. If it’s really that offensive to you, don’t go to any gay weddings. Problem solved.

I think there’s a lot of entitled pride in our country when we still have so much to learn if we want to run smoothly as a collective culture, and truly live up to the ideals of the men who penned that old Declaration we are celebrating. And that muddles up the celebration for those of us who think too much, like me. So, while in the past I may have happily donned a $5 Old Navy t-shirt with a flag on it, cheered at a parade or two, and happily partaken in the culinary treats of the 4th of July festivities, I’ve never had a huge emotional connection to Independence Day.

It hit me today, though, that I feel a new interpretation of Independence Day for me. For many years, I was the opposite of independent. Trapped in an unhealthy marriage with no financial assets, limited career prospects, and two small children to worry about, there was nothing that felt independent about my life until my divorce, which just reached a two year anniversary. For this two years, true to the desired American opportunity and fortitude of all who have fought for the independence of our country, I was able to put my head down, further my education, and become an educator myself, complete with a graduate degree. Not too shabby.

Could I have accomplished this in any other number of countries? Well, certainly, but conversely, I could have been born in a place where I would have had to stay trapped and dependent. I could have been born in a country where I had to live a life serving someone who treated me like a possession rather than a person. While I felt trapped until recently, I still always knew that I had choices in my life, and that is certainly something to celebrate. Psychologically, those choices may have had to be forced upon me to evoke great changes, but the fact is my independence was fostered in the land of the free. And, let me say, after what I’ve been through the last few years, the home of the brave.

We’re all brave – human beings are brave. Maybe there’s nothing about the the U.S. of A that makes us better than other countries. And we arguably have a lot to learn from countries with richer history and deeper perspectives on what’s important in life. Like, hello daily siestas, 3 hour meals full of wine, conversation, and laughter, or truly universal healthcare, to name a few. Along the lines of the teenage analogy, we are in such a rush to get to the next thing, but one day America might slow down a little in maturity and start smelling those independent roses planted 239 years ago.

That said, I’m smelling my own independent roses, and on this day, they are red, white, and blue. Happy 4th of July to all!