Officially, July Fourth is the anniversary of our nation’s birth. When 56 brave colonists applied their signatures to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (an “in your face” rejection of British authority) they were potentially signing their own arrest warrant and death certificate.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” — U.S. Declaration of Independence
Had Britain prevailed in the ensuing war for American independence, these men and others who were sympathetic to the cause would have gone down in history as traitors. Instead, Britain’s loss made heroes of these renegades and an independent nation of the colonies.
This date deserves to be more than a “Happy Birthday America!” party. Known as the “Land of Opportunity,” the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” and the “Great Experiment,” our great nation was made possible by a unique set of qualities we might call “The American Spirit.” I believe a celebration of that spirit would be a more complete recognition of what the holiday represents.
At the far end of DisneyWorld’s Epcot there is a colonial-style pavilion called “The American Adventure.” Here visitors will find a fife and drum routine, a cappella singers with a Manhattan Transfer kind of sound, a museum of historical artifacts, and a Disney-style animatronics presentation hosted by Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, which recalls transforming events of our past. The underlying theme is a celebration of the American Spirit.
Spirit of Adventure, Innovation, Discovery, Pioneering and Knowledge
These characteristics define our curious side. The “new world” as it was called, offered opportunities to learn and experience new things and the settlers responded in spite of the risks. Young America was a place and time of adventure.
“What kind of man would live where there is no daring? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.” — Charles Augustus Lindbergh
Spirit of Freedom, Individualism, Independence and Self-reliance
America has thrived when the spirits of freedom and independence were the cause. Over the decades, Americans have had a showdown with British oppression, slavery, would-be conquerors, natural disasters, the Great Depression, terrorism and institutionalized discrimination. When faced with major challenges, America has survived and become better in the process.
“Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the result of the right choice.” — Anonymous
“Freedom is a package deal – with it comes responsibilities and consequences.” — Author Unknown
Spirit of Heritage, Compassion and Tomorrow
Gratitude for the sacrifices of those who came before us, compassion for the less fortunate in our midst and concern for the legacy we leave could be called America’s “Spirit of Goodness.”
“No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you.” — Althea Gibson
“Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar Chavez
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today, at home and around the world!” — John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961
Where We Stand Today
If these Spirits of America were the original seeds of greatness, then we best beware. Today, different seeds are being sowed. The “Spirit of Tomorrow” has been replaced by the “Spirit of Instant Gratification”. The “Spirit of Knowledge” is overshadowed by a hunger for gossip and pop culture trivia. The “Spirits of Pioneering and Adventure” are becoming hard to find amidst today’s “Spirits of Comfort and Safety.” We live our adventures vicariously through television and movies.
The “Spirits of Conformity and Dependence” now rule over the “Spirit of Freedom, Individualism and Self-Reliance” resulting in a self-imposed slavery. The “Spirits of Innovation and Discovery” seem to be dying, too. An inability to exercise our imaginations, think outside the box and to ask simply “How?” and “Why?” will take a toll on our future. But, what will ultimately cost America her greatness is the self-centered nature and apathy that are killing our once revered “Spirit of Heritage” and “Spirit of Compassion.”
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
Sadly, America has become a body of “Me First” citizens. John Steinbeck summarized our current plight as follows:
“I have named the destroyers of nations: comfort, plenty, and security – out of which grow a bored and slothful cynicism, in which rebellion against the world as it is, and myself as I am, are submerged in listless self-satisfaction”
I believe the solution to our national sickness is to adopt a “Spirit of Gratitude.” Without thankful hearts, we are destined to remain mired in selfishness; unappreciative of the many blessings we have been given.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” — William Arthur Ward
“Praise the LORD! Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” — Bible, Psalm 106:1
Thankfully, America remains the Land of Opportunity. Even with all of our problems, we still have the opportunity to choose the kind of country we will be. Will you help lead the way?
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” — Ayn Rand
Today would be a great day for every American to choose a renewed vision of greatness and to embark on a journey to achieve it. The following Francis Spellman quote offers a good place to start.
“Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon man.”
God Bless America!
© Copyright June 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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