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Independence Day - The good and bad is what makes us great

July 03, 2010

Maybe it's because we're a naturally optimistic people, or maybe it's just because we love a good party, but Americans were celebrating July 4 with parades and fireworks a full decade before anyone knew whether or not the War of Independence would be won.

The Founders all but demanded it. Writing to his wife, Abigail, John Adams listed his recipe for a proper Second of July celebration, including, but not limited to parades, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and "illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

A couple of footnotes are in order. First, this was John Adams talking, a man not normally known for dancing around on tables with a lampshade on his head. This needs to be considered when evaluating the level of excitement created by the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Also, the Second of July is not a typo. The great document was passed by a vote of the colonies on July 2, but it was not signed for another month.

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Adams was convinced that July 2 would go down in history.

With his rather dour outlook on life in general, John Adams might not have appreciated the irony, but it's been much-noted, in a cosmic sense, that his death occurred on July 4, 1826. Were his preferred date to have won out, a fraction of his own luster might have been lost.

And Thomas Jefferson's. The two didn't always see eye-to-eye, and each was determined to outlive the other. Adams' anguished last words were, "Thomas Jefferson (still) survives!"

Except that he didn't. Jefferson had died five hours earlier, but without Facebook, Adams had no way of knowing.

Most holidays require us, or at least ask us, a moment of sober reflection. We properly remember soldiers, workers and great, fallen leaders.

July 4 is an opportunity to be happy, without apology.

When we do reflect on the holiday's meaning, it should fill us with good thoughts. Even though our flaws fill the newspapers and airwaves, we would not trade our lot for that of any other nation.

Even though we bemoan the cracks in our republican form of government and our democratic processes, they still shine when compared to the world's alternatives.

Even though we fight like cats among ourselves, we band together as one at any outside threat or attack.

This is America; that's how we roll. We complain and bicker and hoot and holler. It's all part of loving life, a way of life that was founded so long ago that most of us can barely fathom the times.

Yet through the centuries, an American life has remained a distinctly recognizable life. There are easily identified parallels between Wall Street traders and robber barons; Texas oilmen and early pioneers; explorers of space and explorers of rugged mountain ranges.

An American life is uniquely quiet and boisterous, curious and closed-minded, exuberant and depressed, courteous and obnoxious. We have been called a cultural stew, and we are a behavioral stew as well. We are both good and bad, and we can be a whole lot of each. It is, in fact, what has made us great - pushing boundaries and following traditions at the same time.

We have not forgotten Adams' advice, and as we celebrate this Fourth of July (riotously, as always), we can happily reflect on the fact that we are one great mix of all things great and small. May it always be so.

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