The Fourth of July celebrations of my childhood were filled with cookouts, ice cream, and fireworks. We would spend the day with family, wave tiny American flags, wear patriotic shirts from Old Navy, and maybe run through a sprinkler if it was hot enough outside. This year’s Independence Day and the entirety of July—and the summer—will look different for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth celebrating.
Ever since March, when the coronavirus pandemic began turning our nation upside-down, public gatherings have been limited. At first, this meant church was going virtual, restaurants were upping their carry-out menus, and lots of us became work-from-home employees. It was inarguably a major adjustment to our daily lives, but we coped with the hope that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and everything would eventually go back to normal. The longer the restrictions have been in place, we have begun to realize further implications: no county fairs, no summer concerts—and very few Fourth of July fireworks celebrations.
Of course, the biggest elephant in the room when discussing patriotic celebrations in today’s social climate is the occurrence of racial injustice protests across the country. As marginalized groups work to make their voices heard and fight for equal opportunities, other important parties—like the police force—are coming under fire for their role in this battle and, fairly or not, are often being grouped with those who have historically abused power and made poor decisions that have affected the lives of others.
Now, I’m not a political writer, nor am I a health expert. I’m not here to tell you how to react to governmental restrictions on social gatherings, and I’m not here to advise your political views on the current state of our nation. Instead, I am here to zoom out from these important issues to celebrate the big picture: our nation as a whole. The issues we’re facing in 2020 are troubling to say the least, but even during these unprecedented and divisive times, it’s important to remember and celebrate our freedoms.
Throughout the world, there are people living under incredibly oppressive governmental structures. They don’t get to vote; instead, their leaders are decided by military force. They don’t have freedom of speech or access to the internet, which means spreading information and conveying ideas is incredibly difficult. Children are forced to work long hours in difficult jobs, limiting their education potential and risking their lives in unsafe conditions. And those few issues are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangerous living situations people across the globe are facing.
While we can all agree the United States certainly isn’t perfect and we have a long way to go on solving many issues, we can also unite in gratitude for the freedoms we take for granted every day. I once heard our country described as the “cereal aisle nation,” because we offer so many choices—one of which is a full aisle dedicated to all the different cereals a shopper can purchase. We have the freedom to pursue education, earn careers and speak out when we disagree with what’s going on in our country. For most of us, this freedom and luxury of choice is something we’ve never imagined living without; but for many people in the world, it’s an aspirational dream.
Last year, I was speaking with immigrant friend when she described the first time she ate a brownie, which was not something she had available back in her home country. She said, “I wondered why it was so gooey and why Americans would choose to eat a small piece of an under-baked chocolate cake.” Her assessment made me laugh. Now, a few years later, it’s her favorite dessert. That harmless story provided me with so much perspective on my sheltered tendencies to assume everyone in the world has had similar experiences as myself. To hear that she had never even encountered a brownie in her life surprised me—especially because she wasn’t from an underprivileged third-world nation. It forced me to re-assess how I consider the rest of the world, their opportunities, and their cultures. I began wondering what else I had been taking for granted because I had the luxury to assume everyone else was given the same opportunities as me. Spoiler alert: I realized I had taken pretty much everything in my life for granted. What about you?
This Fourth of July and the entire month, I encourage you to think about your “brownie situation.” What have you always taken for granted? For me personally, this is an everyday struggle. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own concerns that we develop tunnel vision and forget to acknowledge and celebrate our existing freedoms. We have the ability to vote for our elected officials. To protest against injustices and to publicly support causes we believe in. To choose a box of cereal from an entire aisle filled with choices.
Even though this summer certainly won’t look like the ones from my childhood, that doesn’t diminish its value. In fact, maybe it makes this year even more valuable. It provides us the opportunity to take a hard look at our priorities, our choices, and all the things we’ve taken for granted in the past, like hosting a cookout and then watching the local fireworks show. It pushes us to consider how we want to operate in the future, and to consider how we want that future to look.
So, even as we struggle as a nation and fight for our beliefs while navigating a post-pandemic society, it’s a time to celebrate. It’s a time to decide how the future should look and get excited about the possibilities it holds. I hope this summer is filled with a new kind of celebration for you—one that might be new but is no less exciting than running through a sprinkler on Independence Day.