The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday – bar none, but it hasn’t achieved that place in my life without earning it.
My dad’s birthday is the fifth, and my best friend’s birthday is the third. We usually had a family cookout somewhere near the day, and did the whole fireworks thing. My best friend would have his Birthday Party every year, and the Fourth of July burned itself into my memory as a time of celebration.
In the summer after my first year of Seminary, Father Bert Richman - my Pastor, inspiration, and very dear friend - passed away. He closed his eyes to this world, on July 3, the same day as that friend’s birthday (who was also good friends with Fr. Bert). For me, in that moment, the Fourth of July stopped being a cause to celebrate.
The next year, life began to take it’s course. My Seminary journey became more intense, and along the way I made friends with someone new, who introduced me to the world of the Fourth of July…Bristol style. He allowed me a glimpse each year on July 3rd and 4th into a world of nonstop cookouts, the Parade, Fireworks, and the town of Bristol (which during the Fourth is a whole different world) in a whole new light. The Fourth of July had again become a testimony to celebration!
After leaving Seminary I found myself once again growing further and further away from the world I knew. That individual who had “re-invented the Fourth” for me, and I, found ourselves living in two very different worlds…worlds that were so different they were unable to meld. That parting of ways was difficult for me, and the Fourth of July became empty again. It returned to being a reminder of things like; loss, resentment, and regret.
Today I look at life in general through a different lens, and as a result I can’t help but feel once again a deep love for the Fourth, but now it means something entirely different. Every year I go and watch the fireworks, and it makes me feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I think about all the things about the Fourth that I have loved through the years, and all the people that made it so special. Although those things and people have come and gone they have contributed to who I am today. Maybe that’s why we as Americans relate so well to the Fourth of July. It’s the epitome of American optimism. If you think about it, it's a strong message of recovery.
The Star Spangled Banner tells the story of the American Flag flying proud the day after a long battle. We can all relate to that…many times life feels like a battle. We do the best we can with what we have. We try to pay the bills, keep our friends and loved ones satisfied, meet the expectations that are upon us, and all the while try to improve ourselves in life’s ongoing “self improvement project.” We try to keep our head above water, and when Summer comes we grasp at the opportunity to embrace a well deserved rest. We deserve it because in so many ways we too can proudly say; “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, but the flag was still there.” That’s one of the many reasons the Flag is so meaningful a symbol; because we too somehow make it through all the nights, the battles, the bombs and the rockets with “red glare”.
Living this “American Dream” is stressful, and challenging. Our founding fathers established for us a Nation to thrive and grow bathed in freedom and liberty. This Fourth of July, let’s not only celebrate the freedom, but also the thriving and the growing! Let’s give thanks to the Lord for all the challenges we’ve survived, because they have contributed to who we are today…and prepared us for whatever else may come! After all, America isn’t just the land of the free, it’s also the home of the brave!!
God Bless America!