I found myself alone on the Fourth of July with nothing scheduled with family or friends, so I decided to head over to the Park to get into the Independence Day spirit, but to my surprise, very few people were there.
Nobody on the softball diamonds. No one practicing their soccer moves. The skate park was vacant. Only 433 people all day at the pool.
Turns out the Park District had changed Independence Day celebrations to July 3. I missed the picnic and live music.
My surprise, of course, was due to the memories I had of the park being jammed all day, especially in the evening for the fireworks. On the Fourth of July I wanted to be with a thousand or so of my closest friends and fellow Forest Parkians. On Independence Day, in other words, I didn’t want to be independent.
And that got me thinking about the limits of independence. The American history we were taught in high school glorifies the War of Independence and elevates George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin and, oh yes, Betsy Ross to the status of saints and heroes. But at what cost: 25,000 dead or wounded on the American side and the same for the British. And then, 85 years later when the Confederate States wanted to become independent, 625,000 people died to preserve the union. See the irony?
According to developmental psychology, adolescence is the time of life for us to become independent of our parents, to stand on our own two feet, form our own unique identities and begin controlling our own lives. What is striking to me is that Australia and Canada managed to nonviolently untie their apron strings with Great Britain, while the United States cut those strings and a whole lot of people died in the process. If our country had remained in the British Empire, slavery would have ended in this country 29 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
Another surprise waited for me Monday, July 7. I went to the pool and this time the facility was packed, 1,222 people altogether during the day. Three days after Independence Day I got what I had been looking for. Liz Broecher, who was working the front window that day, greeted me by name with a smile
I said hello to several people I knew on my way to the lap lanes and the children lining up at the diving board parted politely to let me through.After swimming my usual quarter mile, I sat in the sun and watched the amazing Norman Rockwell E Pluribus Unum picture unfolding there before me. A Muslim woman wearing a hijab sitting in the shade watching her little children splash in the shallow end. Old guys like me—who had given up trying to look like twenty somethings by holding their tummies in— enjoying the refreshing water.
Pregnant women great with child in bikinis. A disabled guy with a walker. Folks with ink all over their bodies. A gay couple. Blacks, whites, tans, redheads, blonds, black hair, brown and no hair. People who spoke the King’s English and those just learning.
As I drove home, I felt like I had found what I was looking for three days earlier. In a word it was community. Independence, I decided, is really an adolescent thing. You need it to continue maturing as a human being, but if you get stuck there, you never grow up. Give me liberty or give me death? Hmmm. Death in one form or another, it seems to me, is what you get when you are focused solely on freedom, on “my rights as an individual.”
Interdependence means that part of my identity as an “individual” is paradoxically defined by my relationships with other people. My experience on Interdependence Day made me grateful to live in a community of mostly unpretentious residents who seem to understand their small but important place in the grand scheme of things. It’s a lesson which I wish people who have any kind of power would learn.
Or, as the rock band Chicago used to sing: Every day’s the Fourth of July.