Adapted and updated: In 2011, my husband and I made an incredible drive up the coast of California between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a side trip to Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco and Muir Woods. We enjoyed breathtaking vistas of rugged coastline and walked a trail gazing up at immense redwood trees. The experiences were thrilling and even spiritual. Two songs kept coming to mind: “This Land is Your Land” and “How Great Thou Art.” This trip was the perfect backdrop for Fourth of July reflections on the wonderful country I call home.
A piece in the July 4, 2011 Seattle Times by staff columnist Jerry Large called “Remember What We Should Be Celebrating” resonated with me then and still does today.
People will casually say this is a country built on a set of ideals rather than a nation bound by a shared ethnicity, race or religion. But what that means is that we can’t just celebrate an event that took place in 1776; we have to work constantly to keep what began then alive.
Never in our country’s history has the fragility of connection between its citizens been challenged so much, as fear and ignorance give rise to prejudice and misunderstanding. I wrote those words ten years ago, and today in 2021 they are even more true. As Mr. Large said, “We still have descendants of immigrants who despise new immigrants,” and that’s such a contradiction with the principles on which our country was founded. Hard times, such as our current economic situation, can bring out the worst — or the best — in us, and diversity can challenge our feelings of connection.”
As I reflect on America’s amazing flexibility and resilience, and on the times such as the Civil War when we almost tore ourselves apart, I say a fervent prayer for this country and its potential for a future of opportunity and prosperity for all. As Jerry Large ends his column,
We ought to look down the road and ask what kind of country we want to leave to our grandchildren. Enlightened or ignorant, we all get to choose.
He is so right.
Here’s what I’m asking myself today and what I encourage you to ask yourself too: What choices can I make today, and going forward, to help ensure America’s future? Certainly, I can speak up when I hear anyone disparaged. I can write to support fairer legislation and policies. I can stand up for what I believe is right instead of criticizing the acrimony of today’s political rhetoric and use it as an excuse to stay on the sidelines. I can pray to always see myself in those who look and think differently from me and to always look for the common ground between us.
There are things we can each do personally to help ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves and for others. What can you do?
One person can make a difference, and everyone should try. ~ John F. Kennedy
Photo credit: “Colors” by Billy Alexander (via http://www.sxc.hu)