Happy 4th of July, everyone. (Or 5th. Or 6th. Or whatever day this happens to be.)
Between hot dogs, corn on the cob, Budweisers and fireworks, take a minute or two to think about the meaning not just of liberty, but freedom as well. Those of us lucky enough to live in countries in which we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the freedom to start businesses and be masters of our own destinies have it good. Don’t take it for granted. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that written laws grant you freedom. Written laws can be unwritten. Contracts can be amended. Things can change. Ask King George. Ask Louis XVI. Freedom is as fragile and precious and fleeting as life itself. Remember that freedom is not conditional. It is or isn’t. Though you may not be free 100% of the time, moments of freedom are absolute. Catching the sweet spot on a wave, the sun at your back, not a worry in your mind, that’s freedom. Racing full bore around the pyramids of Gizah, warm desert wind filling your lungs, the horse under you bucking with joy at finally being untethered and allowed to gallop, that’s freedom. Doing cartwheels in a field under endless skies, driving too fast with the top down, free-diving coral reefs, carving virgin snow at dawn with freshly sharpened skis: Freedom.
Going through passport control in the Atlanta airport, working a job you hate, letting someone bully you, coloring between the lines, checking the box, being in debt, none of these things are freedom. The land of the free isn’t if no one in it remembers what it means to truly be free.
Don’t mistake comfort and safety for freedom. Don’t let anyone convince you that freedom is something one man can grant another. It doesn’t work that way. Something granted can be just as easily taken back. Freedom, true freedom, is seized, not bought. No piece of paper, not even the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution has the power to grant a single man freedom from another. Freedom lives in our hearts and in our actions. Words mean nothing. Words lie. (Beware the man who speaks of freedoms in the plural rather than freedom in the singular. The moment that happens, watch your back.)
So on this 4th of July 2010, take a moment to think about your liberty. Your freedom. What are you really celebrating today? How free are you really? Are you working for the right company? Answering to the right boss? Doing what you know in your heart what you should be doing with your life? Are you merely celebrating the idea of Freedom on the Fourth of July because you’re kind of supposed to, or is today an extension of July 3rd and a prologue to July 5th and 6th and 7th?
The Founding Fathers knew in their time that a nation of slaves would never rise to its fullest potential, and the same is true today: Complacency, the lure of safe choices and graying compromises, settling for anything less than freedom – the kind that fills your lungs and burns through your veins and makes you feel alive, truly alive – and letting other people decide how you should live your life are a threat to us as a nation as grave as global warming, religious hatred and self-righteous intolerance.
When the French gave Liberty to the US as a symbol of lasting friendship between our two countries, their hope was that she wouldn’t be forgotten, standing alone on an island, facing out to an empty, graying sea. They hoped that she would inspire every man woman and child to seek their own freedom, to fight for it, to love it with every last gasping breath above all else.
To those who have and do shed blood for freedom, who risk life and limb for it, whether soldiers or refugees, students or journalists, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, we owe more than hot dogs, beer and fireworks. We owe them no less than to fight for our own, every single day with all our souls, as if our very lives depended on it. And they do. Be careful not to celebrate what may not be yours to celebrate yet. What you may not have truly tasted in years.
So my advice to you is this: From now on, color outside the lines. Draw your own boxes. Work for people you want to work for. Make your destiny and every moment of your life your own. Don’t ever, ever ever let anyone get in the way of that. Do this and a year from today, we’ll all have a lot more to celebrate, hot dogs, beer, fireworks and all.
Happy 4th of July, everyone.