Bill, my husband and running partner, and I ran through the park in our small town on the Fourth of July.
Typically, we would avoid the park like the plague on that day. Lititz usually goes all out to celebrate the Fourth and a run through the park would mean weaving and dodging all the Independence Day revelers.
There are customarily games, food stands, a parade, music in the bandshell, and in the evening a Queen of Candles is crowned. A huge fireworks display tops off the festivities.
This year’s events were canceled due to the pandemic. Most Fourth of July celebrations were quiet, small, and subdued.
The muted nature of the day invited ruminations about just what it means to be an American. “What does it mean to be a people?” I wondered.
Here are three of my thoughts on the subject.
- Being a people is sort of like being a family. We all don’t always agree on everything but we must have our collective best interest at heart. We may squabble amongst ourselves but we will fiercely defend each other from outside attacks. The glorification of the individual has put our “peoplehood” to the test. We no longer seem to believe in forsaking our own best interests for the greater good. We want everything to go our way all the time and we want it now.If we observe family members acting this way, we would rightly conclude “dysfunctional“. We must recognize that for our people to win, we all must be winners. Everyone must have a stake in our success, not just the fortunate few.
- To be a people, we must acknowledge a common history. When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, they faced hardship, yes, but they also became more than a ragtag collection of former slaves. Their shared hardship made them a people.Americans become a people when we learn and accept the truest version of our shared history. It isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always uplifting or inspiring or even bearable at times.
But, whether your family has lived here for 400 years or 4 months, subsuming our shared history into our hearts is the first step to becoming a people.
Our shared history is not found in monuments, statues, or memorials. It is found in our stories and our people.
- If your friends, leaders, and heroes sow strife, division, and hate, it may be time for new friends, leaders, and heroes.A people’s destiny is bound together.For us to succeed as a people, we must be inclusive, egalitarian, and fair. To shun certain groups or blame them for our hardships is a dangerous and selfish fantasy.
Rather than looking to place blame elsewhere, we must ask ourselves, “What could I do to proliferate peace?”
Being an American means being free. Free to care for one another. Free to have a better opportunity to realize our dreams. Free to stand together, united and secure, to face adversity.
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Harry S. Truman
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