The Union Recorder

July 6, 2013

Happy birthday America! Was I supposed to bring a gift?

Mike Rowland
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Well, America celebrated her 238th birthday this week. It was kind of a dud as far as Fourth of July celebrations go. After all, it’s hard to have a real party amid three inches of rain. Unless, of course, you are a duck!

Almost all of the fireworks slash concerts slash public celebrations I was following got cancelled. Just for the record, I am a big fireworks fan. I can do without the parades. I can also do without barbecue — well, maybe. Even the occasional adult beverage I can do without.

But no party with fireworks? Now that’s just unpatriotic. Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it.

Speaking of barbecue, I have to admit to smoking an awesome Boston butt. I found an amazing rub recipe from the Internet, fired up the grill, and let that baby slow cook for about six hours.

Add some fresh corn on the cob, a few small red potatoes, my favorite adult beverage of the wheat variety, and the stage was set for an epic celebration…minus the fireworks, of course .

Speaking of birthdays, Mama and I recently celebrated our 53rd. Now, just in case you didn’t know, there are things at this age that I just can’t do anymore. I won’t go into the details, because as a true red-blooded American male, I just don’t want to admit to losing the skip in my step.

Knowing how middle age is catching up with me, Ole Lady Liberty doesn’t look half bad for her age. I am sure the Founding Fathers had some inclination that the work they were doing was important, but my suspicion is they never would have anticipated their dream evolving into the most sought after way of life in the world.

It is true we have had our blemishes. Excluding our fight for independence, we struggled through a couple of world wars, a civil war of our own, and a time in history where we forgot the self-evident fact that all men are created equally.

We may not have learned that last lesson completely because in spite of the equal nature of man’s physical existence, his heart seems to be forever created differently. The mind that directs that heart is also caught in an eternal struggle with good and evil. Perhaps we are better at treating one another with dignity and respect than ever, but we will always have a long way to go.

Nevertheless, I awakened this morning to the beautiful summertime symphony of songbirds, the sound of fish slapping the water atop the river that meanders past my little piece of paradise, squirrels playing chase in my yard, and I had my morning coffee in a state of existence completely free to pursue any vision my mind can fathom.

Speaking of a birthday party, it occurred to me that most birthday parties I have attended involve bringing gifts to the object of the celebration. Given that we celebrate America’s birth each year at this time, and given the aforementioned fact that I have been around for more than half a century, and given that there are more than 315 million other people in this country, Lady Liberty should have quite a treasure trove of gifts.

But what do you give a country? Especially one who seems to have everything?

Perhaps you give her the respect of saluting her flag when it is unfurled. After all, her banner represents the sacrifice of many for the common good of us all. It has been tattered and torn; its stars and stripes have changed over the years, but her symbol for freedom has never changed.

Perhaps you come to attention, place your hand over your heart, and get chill bumps whenever her anthem is played. From Friday night high school football games to the inauguration of her president, each individual note represents the sacrifice of an unnamed person who understood the vision but never saw the reality.

Perhaps you vote in her elections … a process envisioned as the ultimate voice in what shape freedom should take. And when we all vote and when a majority of us have spoken, then those of us who find ourselves in the minority voice should embrace the elected position as our own, never betrothing our commitments as if we acquiesce our inner most visions, but rather determined to use the lawful process of our nation to bring about change.

Perhaps we defend her like a big brother charged with making sure no one outside the family brings her dishonor although we know she certainly has her faults. She is, after all, our flesh and blood. And when she lets us down, which she most assuredly will do, we love her anyway.

Speaking of faults, perhaps we elect for her men and women who understand that not every fault is corrected in a day. Regardless, correcting her faults is necessary and grounded in the collective wisdom of those who understand that extremes are inevitable. The real answers most often lie somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps … just perhaps … it isn’t the gift at all that makes this birthday special but rather our willingness to acknowledge that the very freedom she represents a return gift to us that no other gift can trump.

So happy birthday America. Forgive us if we forgot your gift.