Use this day - how fortuitous that it's a Monday, I love those long weekends! - to be with your loved ones, to go for walks in the beautiful weather, to have exquisite meals and then enjoy the fireworks glassy eyed from a day of indulging and - deeper within - from a day of being a child again, the bright explosions in the suddenly spotted with millions of stars sky, reminiscent not of disaster, but safety, not of terror, but elation, the kind that only a six year old is capable of. Magic.
Use this day also, please, to read the Declaration of Independence. Yes, yes, you've read it in school, you probably had to learn it by heart, along with the per capita income of Brazil and the main agricultural products of Iowa. I am sure very few remember any of it very well. Now, let me say right here, I am not American. The Declaration is not part of my past. I am greek and no matter what our shortcomings as a people are now, my past includes inventing Democracy; my ancestors were the cradle - or one of two, three maybe cradles - of anything we consider "civilized" today. If you think I am mentioning this out of some sense of moral superiority you are wrong. I mention it, because I would be damn proud to be a descendant of the giants who signed their names under - perhaps - the most important document in modern history.
I wonder often how it came to pass. How it was possible, in a time period of limbo, suspended between old and new, on the threshold of "modern times" but not quite yet, how it was possible for so many different people to agree upon a declaration so radical. I suppose it was the rebellion. Human spirit pushed to the brink. You see, the oppression was such, that nothing - not even life lost - was too steep a price. And while the combative expression of the revolution is impressive - the courage of raggedy men and women in the face of a mighty army - it does surpass the level of courage, intellectual this time, shown by the Founding Fathers as representatives of The People. Read the amazing document again, not as a school project, but as you would a religious document, the cornerstone of your being. Read it and think.
As I am faced with the Declaration's truths (the ones we hold as self evident), line upon line, I feel a stabbing pain. You see, I bragged a few paragraphs up, that my ancestry is high, the creators of Democracy. And what now? How do we, the descendants of such giants, honor their achievements? How do we practise and further their creation? Suffice it to say "not well". I will not delve deeper into this subject - it is not of this essay. But I ask the same, and ask yourselves that - "what now?" - a quarter of a millenium almost after the Declaration of Independence was signed. I would go so far as to say, that the American forefathers reinvented Democracy, but how do we honor them today? How do we incorporate their ideas, as expressed in their historic document, into our everyday life? Stabbing pain. The "leading nation of the free world" is - rapidly now, but slowly and steadily for many decades before - turning into a police/fear state. Freedom? The freedom of a watched rat in a comfortable maze. Pursuit of happiness? Everyone equal? A government of the people, by the people and for the people?
I fear that it is all gone. I fear that it will never again be as it was on that glorious day, that fourth of July so long ago. And it is such a shame! Europe had been old, tied to monarchs and circles of power, old blue blood coursing deep in the continent's veins, holding things in their long established patterns. But America - oh America! America was young. Brand new! Glistening in a never before seen sun, a bright future free of any fetters, any restriction, any tradition looming ahead! Oh, what could have been achieved! And for a while it was grand. Anything new, everything advanced, innovative, exciting, came from the United States of America. Not just technology, least of all technology actually. The main innovation was the fresh breeze of inventive spirit, freedom from the constraints of the past, entrepreneurial spirit combined with an almost childish naivete. America was striding ahead of everyone, the torch of new freedom alight in her steady hands, illuminating the future.
When did the strides of giants become the wary, but also haughty half-steps of old misers, counting their gold in cold, dark attics, illuminated this time only by the stealthy candles of intrigue and treachery? When did the embezzlement of the People's Power begin? Was it right after Lincoln was killed? Was it right after Kennedy's life ended? I doubt there can be a definite answer. Yet, unmistakeably, with little interruption by way of benevolent figures, followers of humanism and progress, a Dark Hand has guided the young, brilliant, jubilant, free United States into a backwards timewarp, which leads, through a tunnel of erebos into the Kingdom of Gilead.
It is hard to see it when your life - my life, our life - revolves around the axis "work - home - work" (yes, work twice, maybe more). It is hard to sit still and think, when you have two kids, two cars, two loans and two mortgages. It is hard - oh so hard! - to rebel when you have it so easy. Washington had not much to lose - a life as an indentured servant of Britain perhaps - and everything to gain. But us? As I said, our cages are lined with the finest appliances, our wide-screen television sets hum our lullabys every night, our new bibles - The News - keep us in line, terrified of the alternatives, cut off from the rest of the world, a world that, in the end, is not so different from ours.
Do eat, drink and make merry today. Please do. If there is one "civic" holiday that needs to be observed... religiously, it is this one. Do go out in the evening, on your porch, in the streets, out on the lawns and sit and watch the fireworks with the wide eyes of an amazed child. Be proud of this heritage, American and global and honor it by striving, a little every day, to live up to the magnificent Idea, that the Founding Fathers put at the very foundation of the United States of America. The Idea without which we are nothing.
Happy fourth of July.