The 4th of July: What’s It to You?
By Bill Shepard
What is the first thing that comes to mind when the word “freedom” is used? A likely answer would be, “free from dictatorship or tyrant’s rule.” Those of us who have never lived under those conditions can’t really know what it is like; therefore, we cannot really appreciate the freedom we enjoy living in a democracy. Even when we read or hear of those adverse conditions, we cannot fully know what they are like. Someone has said and I agree that we can only really know the things that we experience.
One of the several definitions given for the word “freedom” is “liberation from slavery, or restraint from the power of another.” I suppose that to some degree, any restraint imposed upon us takes from us a bit of our freedom. By that definition of the word, total freedom for anyone would be a very rare commodity. Even in this blessed land of the free, there are many, far too many, that are living in bondage. Not all are free from want, hunger, disease, fear, loneliness, and a dozen other that could be named. These things enslave a person and rob them of the beauty of living in a land of the free. While government can guarantee our freedom from some things, it is unable to guarantee all.
July 4, 1776 – July 4, 2016. Count the years between the two dates. It has been a long, long time. Wars, bloodshed, suffering, and sacrifice were prices paid for the freedom that so many take for granted. That freedom is more threatened today than at any time since it was first a reality in my opinion.
When I was a teacher in our public school system, I often taught a class during summer school. The 4th of July was the only day of vacation during that period. On announcing to the class that we would have the day off from school, I would ask the question, “Why do we celebrate the 4th of July?” Some of the answers I would get were: “that’s the day we have a picnic,” “that’s the day we go fishing,” “we have a cookout on that day” and the answers to my question would continue. “Those are the ways we celebrate,” I would say, “but why do we celebrate?” More often, I would not get an answer. I would then explain – sad, so sad!
Through the more than two centuries since America first won its freedom on this 4th of July, freedom faces threat as never before. Little by little, that freedom has been taken by those who seek to destroy our way of life. It is too bad that most of that threat is from within!
Every student of history could tell, in some measure, the meaning of the words the “Emancipation Proclamation.” In 1776, America won its freedom as a nation. A long and costly war ended. The enemy without had been defeated, but there were enemies within. The long battle of slavery was yet to be won. Eighty-six years after the battle for freedom from without had been fought and won; the war within was over. Abraham Lincoln made a declaration that on that first day of January 1863 that all persons held as slaves in America would be set free. That declaration became known as the Emancipation Proclamation. The awful period had ended but the ugly stain it left, still remains, even to this late date.
There have been other wars fought; there are thousands of white crosses marking the graves where young Americans are buried, scattered in foreign lands. These young men died in order that others could live free. Perhaps, more Americans have died while fighting for the freedom of others than any other nation. No other nation can outmatch its love for freedom as America.
This writer has enjoyed the freedom we all love and experience and have fought to maintain. I have seen the rise and fall of nations that have tried to put it out, but failed. Communism, Fascism, Nazism and others have risen and failed. I have lived through wars aplenty and have witnessed many changes in our world. Today, we are locked in a battle with the kind of enemy we have not faced before, at least in a long time. Our freedom within is threatened, and the rise of hatred within our borders is at a risk. The answer to combat that enemy is yet to be found. Already, the enemy has robbed us of many of our freedoms! The “Breaking News” over our TV invades our living rooms. Another mass killing has taken place. There is an uneasy feeling that stalks each time that happens. We can’t seem to feel safe anymore, even in our schools and churches.
As in times past, the victory for freedom will come. As yet, we do not know of the price that must be paid. On this 4th of July, while enjoying your outing, whether picnicking at the park, swimming or fishing at the lake, or grilling in your back yard, pause for a moment and give thanks for your freedom to do so!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.