Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Birthday, America

This week U.S. Americans all across U.S. America will celebrate Independence Day, better known as July 4th. A lot of people are probably upset that the holiday falls during the middle of the week instead of a Monday or Friday because they don’t get a three- or four-day weekend. But for me, the middle of the week is just fine because it means I’m taking the whole week off. I know a few of you are probably saying to yourself, ”Rodney, I thought you take every week off.” And to that, I say, ”stop talking to yourself. People are starting to stare.”

I will fully enjoy this holiday, however. I love July 4th with the fireworks and the sunshine and the lake and the hot dogs and the adult beverages. I’m pretty sure that is exactly what our forefathers had in mind when they celebrated the first July 4th.

This week, I started thinking back about my fondest July 4th memories. My first memory of any of the 45 or so Independence Days I’ve celebrated happened at the bicentennial one in 1976. I was 9 years old and living in Gladewater, Texas (motto: Proud former home of award-winning columnist Rodney Hays).

Not surprisingly, news reports started playing up the 200th birthday of our nation very early on. Everybody was looking forward to celebrating 200 years, including me.  Like most 9-year-olds, summer was already the best time of the year. We were out of school, sleeping late, playing baseball and enjoying life. Add in some Roman candles and hot dogs and I was happier than a puppy surrounding by a pile of spilled Froot Loops.

The 1976 bicentennial celebration started early in the day with all three or four of our television channels covering July 4th festivities across this great nation. In my own backyard, a giant field right behind the Sonic Drive-In my father owned and operated, the fireworks show started even before sunset. Everyone was excited to start blowing stuff up. We sat out back of our house and watched the beautiful fireworks across the neighborhood, every now and again venturing inside to watch the fireworks over the Statue of Liberty in New York and the monuments in Washington D.C. It was a colorful explosion of joy and pride in a county that stood for freedom and democracy, an example to the world.

Since then, I’ve celebrated many July 4th holidays. There were the times at my grandparent’s place when my uncles, full of Scotch and beer, took charge of lighting the fireworks and trying to get away before getting a hand blown off by a bottle rocket. There was the time, my wife and I took our kids to a Rangers baseball game and stayed for the fireworks after. There was the time on the lake when we worked for two hours after the fireworks finale trying to get the anchor unstuck from the lake bottom. Finally, we cut the anchor rope and sailed home on a dark, moonless night.

During all these celebrations, I still couldn’t grasp exactly what it meant to those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on that July 4th in 1776. Those 56 men put everything on the line by telling the King of England that they wouldn’t be needing his services any longer. They weren’t actually declaring war by declaring independence, but they knew war was inevitable. If the colonies could win the war, they stood to gain a lot. If the war was lost, they stood to lose it all, including, most likely, their heads.

I have no idea what must have been going through their minds as they scrawled their names on that important piece of parchment. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision 236 years ago.

I may not have been there to sign that Declaration of Independence in 1776, but I did sign a declaration of independence for my own life. A couple of years ago, I decided to declare my independence from hate in exchange for a life of love, peace and joy. I decided it was high time to stop looking for differences in other people and things and start trying to find places of commonality.

There may be times when I like to poke a little fun at blowhards like Rush Limbaugh, Al Gore or Pat Robertson when they are saying and doing outlandish things. But I don’t hate those guys. I would probably enjoy sitting down with each of them to an adult beverage and a cigar and talking about the things we have in common, even if the only thing we have is our humanness, with desires and dreams and needs.

Our country is a great nation that is a symbol of freedom to our world. But breaking free from the tyranny of hatred in my own life brought me even greater freedom. It means I am free to spread love, peace and joy to a world that needs it desperately.

Why don’t you try declaring your own independence to that evil master this year.

I have to go now. Al, Rush and Pat are starting to get a little liquored-up and asking where the bottle rockets are.

Happy birthday, America.

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