What Does Freedom Mean?

Kellen Lenz artwork, July 2019

What Does Freedom Mean?

Updated post from what seems a decade past—just a year ago.

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, red-and-white checkered tablecloth laid out with fried chicken, butter-dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and large slices of watermelon as we listened to Washington’s Symphony play John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Inevitably my daughter would need a Porta-Potty visit when they broke into my all-time favorite, Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We would be back in time for the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannons—the signal that fireworks would begin.

Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we would ever see. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city-block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then, but there were strong women, like Abigail Adams, behind them) signed the Declaration of Independence.

By signing they were acting against a powerful British Crown and several of them paid dearly for their bravery. Five men were tortured and killed by the British for treason. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons as Revolutionary soldiers and two other sons were captured.

How are we addressing freedom as we reopen the country following the Pandemic? A year ago, my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise and Contradictions” touched on some of the challenges we face. We realize that “freedom” is not doled out equally, neither economically, in the health care we receive, or based on the color of our skin. In the Pandemic we have been fighting a ghost that we cannot see. Months, now over a year, confined to working from home (or finally slowly going back, but much has changed) or still attempting to find work to replace what was lost. Now two million women have left the workforce in part due to the lack of dependable childcare and the need to be at home with children released from school learning online due to the Pandemic. What happens to financial freedom for those still struggling to pull themselves up from economic ruin?

The nation’s been a financial colossus, leading the world in—Gross National Product in January 2020 was over $19.5 trillion, and growing 2.1 percent. Obviously, it dropped in July 2020, to $17.4 trillion, but already has come back to $19.6 even though several million workers are still looking for work. The last few months the unemployed ranks have dropped, giving positive direction to the economy.

As adults we can get bogged down with our responsibilities as we struggle to weave our own safety nets. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you cannot be free yourself if you are endangering others the phrase “what goes around comes around,” seems trite, but we see we are not at the end of this yet. Today we are averaging 2,000 new Covid cases a day nationwide. Much better than the 55,000 cases diagnosed per day a year ago. We cannot move forward without recognizing the 608,741 people lost to the virus as of July 3, 2021. And what over half a million lives lost means to their families and friends, and to the entire nation.

Freedom requires responsibility. We have a new meaning for freedom. It is being part of something greater than yourself. I suspect if we were being invaded by Martians, I hoped we would work together to protect our planet and our families. There would be no red or blue factions.

Enjoy the fried chicken and the tangy barbeque, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon. Squeeze your family and carefully send up some fireworks, unless you live in drought areas, then have the kids paint some bright-colored facsimiles and appreciate you are not inhaling smoke!  We have got some work to do– we have become painfully aware of that this past year. But we are pulling away from one of the greatest challenges we have faced. Now let us begin to move forward…together.

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