Red, white, and blue fly around but once a year. Houses are decorated in these colors, streaming and screaming Independence. Yes, Independence means different things to different people. For some it means running a road race whether it is the Brentwood Firecracker or the Sprint for Freedom. For others it means a cookout where everyone gets plastered. Then there are those who it means the return of a family member from Afghanistan. Sometimes, it means celebrating citizenship or an anniversary free from a demon that consumed one’s life.
Independence could also be my old middle school, a blue ribbon winning Junior High where I spent most of my awkward pre-teen years. I never felt the independence that the bald eagle who was our mascot preached, but rather bondage to parents, teachers, and social standards unfulfilled. I never felt pretty enough as a chubby girl with braces and horrendous makeup. Instead, I was the subject of taunts from a popular girl and her cronies. Another thing to make you a prisoner, your peer group.
The crazy thing was, in those chains I did find freedom. I found my skill as a writer, storyteller, ventriloquist, comedian, and television host. I loved what I was doing and didn’t care. Suddenly, those cronies couldn’t bring me down. I had broken the proverbial cuffs, links, and chains the world had bestowed upon me telling me what I should want as a young woman. Within that dungeon called growing up somehow I found freedom.
Of course the cronie who made fun of me became the ultimate follower. In high school someone called her fat, poetic justice for as mean as she had been to me. She lost a bunch of weight and had to go on psych meds which made her balloon up. In everyone of her facebook photos she is drunk and has a glazed over, sad look in her eyes. For as much as she wanted us all to believe she had it all under control she doesn’t. She is far from being free. She is in twenty three hour a day lockdown in the haunted house upstairs.
For the Fourth I went to my aunt’s house. I saw my baby cousins, now getting big. My cousin Joey had his first big year of freedom. This fall he starts as a sophomore at Case Western. One’s first year of freedom from Mom and Dad makes one realize there is a price for such a concept. Sure, my cousin has his own time, but if he doesn’t study he flunks out. If he is not fit he does not have a place on the football squad. If he does not comply he does not make the fraternity. However, he did well with football, the frat, and school. As a matter of fact he made the Dean’s List. He is doing well with his new found freedom.
My sister is also experiencing a new kind of freedom. She is auditioning for her rounds as a student doctor at Shadyside Hospital. Living in an apartment, she visits my parents when she can. But now she has the freedom to choose her own destiny. While matching is stressful, my sister knows she has the freedom to say yes or no, and to choose the place that is best for her to practice emergency room medicine. A Virgo who likes to be in charge, my sister will like the freedom of being the Grand Pouba. However, with great freedom does come great responsibility.
My cousin Kelsey and my birthday twin is a nurse. She was telling me that if a doc is a jerk the nurses have ways of fighting back. While it sounds crazy, it is refreshing to know this system of checks and balances exists in the American hospital in order to keep patients safe from the tyranny of doctors who believe they are dictators.
Looking around, I see the people at the party experiencing freedom to drink freely and eat as much fatty food as they want. I am eating lots of fatty food. I joke that they may have to roll me out of there. However, as the hot dogs my cousin Bobby cooks on the grill are shoved into our mouths along with the hamburgers, he mentions he is going to Vietnam as a part of his cruise where he works as a musician. My uncle says, “Years ago, when you said your kid was going to Vietnam everyone freaked. Now you tell them to take plenty of pictures.”
This is true. Unlike the heroes of other wars these men were treated like killers when they came home. Sometimes we give similar treatment to Iraqi soldiers. Scary as it is, Americans have forgotten to be grateful to the men and women who serve. Not only is it disrespectful, it is disheartening as I remember watching Gone with the Wind. The Civil War was father against son, brother against brother, and many of those guys were only eighteen when they met their end. Same with the young men in the jungles of Vietnam and in the sand pit of Afghanistan. They wave our flag and we flip them the bird by having no social programs for them. They fight for our freedom, we in turn make them prisoners.
As I chow down, my grandfather makes an appearance. He looks good despite his recent health struggles and being a part of this celebration is his first taste of freedom in sometime. Then I remember, he is going to be ninety four. He fought in Japan during World War II. Both my grandfathers did. My dad’s father, who died long before I was born, used to insist his children ate all their food because he had witnessed people picking food out of the garbage in Japan after the explosion of the atomic bomb. Then we realize how good we have it as compared to the rest of the world.
As a blogger, I spout off my opinions freely. In other parts of the world I would be arrested. Sure, there are dirty cops but there are lawyers who fight back and know the law and protect their clients. Maybe sometimes defendants have too many rights, but in other parts of the world you are guilty until proven innocent.
Then I talk to my brother later in the day who lives near Boston. The town is alive with Revolutionary War celebrations. I think of the gun powder and the young men who died at Lexington and Concord, minutemen unprepared to tackle the British Army. However, they didn’t care as they stormed that hill. They were sick of being oppressed and wanted freedom and were willing to die the death of a psychotic hero in order to do it. That is America.
Because of their bloodshed we have the right of freedom of speech and to occupy Wall Street. Because of these men and their brave sacrifice, we have the right to have elections every four years. It’s because they weren’t afraid and they kept fighting.
That’s what freedom is, not just the will to fly and do what you please but the courage to fight and to do it.
Happy Birthday America