I should probably be in bed right now seeing as I have to wake up in a little less than 6 hours to make the 12 hour drive back to Chicago from the “Commonwealth of Virginia.” But instead of falling asleep my mind is running a muck and so here I sit before my computer screen trying to process the vacation that was. It was, in a word, relaxing. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to do much of anything other than go swimming and fix the occasional dinner for the family. I got to play some cribbage with my wife’s grandpa and father and go see a couple of movies. All in all it was a great vacation, one I don’t want to come back from.
But the real world beckons. I need to get back to work and make a little money to help pay some bills. I need to get some things in order for the upcoming school year and I need to spend some time with my wife. And so once again I am faced with a reality, one that may not be everything I want, seeing as Id rather get paid to do nothing any day of the week, but one that I need to embrace if I am going to continue living on.
This was something I was reminded about on the fourth of July. Rather than go off and party, as we had done that on the second, I spent this past fourth with my wife who caught a stomach bug and believe me it was an all day event. Seeing as I had some time I decided to find a copy of a now famous speech Frederick Douglas gave on the fourth of July back in the 1850’s. (Full copy of the speech here) In that speech he posed the following…
“Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”
He was speaking of course about the irony of a black man speaking on a day about independence and freedom when their lives were full of anything but. The fourth of July has never really held a special place in my heart. That is not to say I am not grateful for the freedom I enjoy every day, its just that the fourth of July was never my favorite of holidays. I tend to find the massive displays of patriotism trotted out for a few days a year to turn my stomach. Despite my cynicism, this year, as I read that speech I was reminded of the fact that as we celebrate a day of independence and freedom there are those who experience too little of that. I thought about all those who aren’t allowed to marry and all of those who, while free to choose, are bound by guilt, embarrassment and shame and forced into a situation that might not be the best choice. I also thought about those who aren’t free to sleep under a roof because a roof isn’t free. All around as a nation celebrated its independence and freedom there are those who are not able to experience it.
And then, as the day turned from the fourth to the fifth I read something else, a not guilty verdict. And then something equivalent to a social media atomic bomb went off and everyone had something to say about it. I guess what struck me the most is that one day we laud freedom and the next we scorn it. Where is our responsibility to her or any other perpetrator of a crime? Should not our love and compassion extend to her as well? Sure the case could have been clear cut, but guess what, the jury of her peers found her not guilty and so she sleeps tonight not guilty. What you or I think about her innocence matters little. But that does not mean we cannot use this example to spur us on to something else.
So here we all are faced with a reality we may not want but one we have to embrace if we are going to keep on living. What reality is that? One that forces us to action. Unless I am moved to make a difference in the lives of those who cannot experience or embrace the freedom so many of us live in every day then thinking about it is worthless. Rather than complain about the not guilty verdict, which will change nothing, we should be concerned about the situations so many other young children and older people are in and try to do something about it. This is the reality we are faced with, a broken, hurting, violent, mean, scared world. One that will eat us up and vomit us back out. But it is one we face together.
All of this is to say that the end isn’t written yet. The story isn’t finished. Tomorrow I wake up and drive back to Chicago and then Thursday is a brand new day. But what am I going to do with that day or the next. I can choose to go through life thinking about those I did on the fourth, or that poor little girl and her mother or I can embrace reality and be moved to do something about it. I hope I have the courage to do the latter.