At the end of the sixties, I was a young college student, the Vietnam War was finally ending, and I had the opportunity to leave the country and venture to France. On my first weekend in the north of France, a large group of us decided to ride our bikes from Lille to Dunkirk. After traveling over 100 kilometers to our destination, we parked our bikes and ran down to the beach to relax. As we walked down the beach, we noticed a large hill of sand on our right while the ocean stretched out to the horizon on our left. Soon someone decided to race to the top of the huge sand ridge. When two of my friends reached the top of the hill, they turned and beckoned for the rest of us to climb the hill.
Arriving at the top of the hill and viewing what lay on the other side was a total surprise. Hidden behind the sand hill was a maze of German block houses, bunkers, gun emplacements, railroad cars mounted with destroyed cannon and other artillery, roads, and tank traps.
Slowly it dawned on all of us that this was where the Allied forces had evaded capture by the advancing Germans in 1940. It was also in Calais to the south or Dunkirk that the Germans had expected that the Allies would return. Consequently, the Germans had built up the sand hill to hide what would await the unsuspecting invading forces that would approach from the beach. If the Allies had invaded this beach, the causalities would have been immense.
One by one each of the individuals, my group standing atop the sand hill, dropped onto the sand and sat in quiet contemplation. Many wept. After a while we began to share with one another our thoughts of country, home, friends lost and living, and family. Because I never had the privilege of serving in the military, this was the first time in my young life that I experienced deep, moving feelings and reverence for my country.
Today’s America is not the America of my youth. Indeed we have many challenges that face us. Yes, we are not perfect, and we have many wrongs that need to be righted. But, we have so many blessings and opportunities to be thankful for. In addition to the parades, fireworks, picnics, and community and family celebrations that you may participate in on Independence Day, I hope you will take some time for reflection.
With the many freedoms that we enjoy comes a responsibility that we have to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and to those who will occupy this land long after we have left it. John Quincy Adams understood this concept when he said, “Posterity: you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it."1
Here are a few ideas that might help to make this Independence Day a celebration of the freedoms that you enjoy.
Teach some history. Take the time to teach your children or young family members something about our country that they may not know. I am frequently appalled when I listen to various media interviewers traveling the city streets asking our young people about our country’s history. The answers they often give not only reveal their ignorance but also their lack of respect and appreciation for what we take for granted as citizens of this nation.
Consider the cost of freedom. Our country’s freedoms came (and come) at a high cost for many family and friends of the fallen. It’s important to understand and acknowledge that cost and to be grateful for those who gave and continue to give their lives in battle and service so that we can live as we do today.
Show gratitude. We were recently out to dinner as a family. I was moved when my 11-year old daughter asked to be excused from the table for a minute. I watched her venture to a nearby table where some members of our military were sitting. I saw her speak quietly to them and return to our table. When she returned to the table I asked her what she had said. She responded with, “I know what they do is hard, and I wanted to let them know that I was grateful.” Sometimes it takes a child to set a proper example.
Do some good. There are many among us who no longer can get out and enjoy a warm summer day or participate in the many festivities of the holiday. If we could all take a moment to do a kind deed, invite someone to dinner, take a plate of treats to the aged, stop by and spend a few minutes and offer to fix up, clean up, or render a service to another, it will not only make the day more meaningful for you but will also gladden the heart of someone who is usually forgotten.
Decide to make a difference. With all the wrongs that need righting, ask yourself, “When was the last time I stood up, showed up, and spoke up for what was right or for what I believed in?” Our complacency has much to do with many of the issues that currently face us. If we don’t start taking the initiative to make a difference, we stand to lose many of the freedoms and blessings that we wish to pass on to the next generation.
Speak kind words. There are many good deeds, heartfelt efforts, and wonderful performances that go unnoticed and unmentioned. Speaking kind words of appreciation will always gladden the heart of the recipient.
Reflect upon your blessings. Take a moment to reflect upon all you have done and may yet do or want to do. Let the positive memories of your life wash over you and lift you in anticipation of what you may yet learn and accomplish. All the dreams of the future await you and are at the command of your resolve.
Improve yourself. I have always believed that what has made America great is the greatness of her people. It takes courage, discipline, vision, hardened effort, and perseverance to rise above what we now are and remold ourselves into individuals of character and virtue. I often worry that we are losing our civility toward one another, and in doing so, I fear that we may lose our civilization.
There are many freedoms that we enjoy that we need to appreciate and celebrate. But with all the celebrating we may do, we must remember that nothing is more important than the individual responsibility that each of us has to preserve, maintain, defend, and extend the freedom that everyone longs to enjoy. May we all have a heightened sense of responsibility to create and maintain the freedom for all to enjoy. Happy July 4th everyone!!
You might also like to consider our freedoms.
1. John Quincy Adams Quotes, http://www.notable-quotes.com/a/adams_john_quincy.html#Jiu4WS38aexKYolC.99