When our family gathered together last weekend, we toasted life, health and happiness. Our older son raised his glass, as he always does, “To Freedom,.” because somewhere in the world people are oppressed and are seeking to be free.
Perhaps because our experiences in the Baltic countries are so fresh, I am thinking a lot about freedom this July 4th. There are many life prompts. Nelson Mandela, who gave his health and would have given his life for his country is struggling for life, and in
too many lands around the world bitter struggle and bloodshed accompanies the quest for freedom.
I keep thinking, too, of the people in Bulgaria who have only really been ‘free’ for about fifty years after centuries of oppression. How hard it must be for Bulgarians to shake off nightmare memories and to grasp the realization that now they are truly able to chart their destiny. Then there are the people in Tunisia who are in the process of putting together their first constitution. “We have just awakened from a long sleep,” our Tunisian guide told us last year when we were in his country. “Now we must find our way.”
How truly precious is this freedom that we take for granted in our country! How precious freedom must mean to San Suu Kyi, who headed the National League for Democracy in Burma and who is newly freed from 15 years of house arrest during which she staunchly upheld her ideals!
But, I remind myself, many freedoms in these United States have been dearly won, too.
I’m not just talking about our war of independence—which is why we celebrate the 4th of July—but of other hard won struggles. Not even a hundred years ago women fought their own war in order to win the right to vote. It couldn’t have been an easy fight, for victory came only after generations of women and the supporters of women’s rights lobbied, lectured, and were arrested for civil disobedience. Women were jailed, tormented and reviled until, in 1920 the 19th amendment was ratified.
And civil rights—how much blood, how much suffering did it take to bring civil rights to fruition? How long did it take, what did it take us to practice what Clarence Darrow once said—“You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom” ?
I think of new freedoms being won today, in the courts as well as on the fields of war. I think of people who chart a never violent course of civil disobedience so that their voices can be heard; theirs is the voice of our freedom at work. I thank and honor those men and women who serve overseas and also the many who selflessly serve the poor and forgotten here at home. They are the ambassadors of our precious liberty.
And—because I have been a writer for more than half my life, I think of times not so long ago when books were burned in brutal Nazi Germany, barred as subversive in Communist countries and—sadly— banned here in many states around the country. I even heard a rumor that “The Little Red Hen” was once considered a ‘bad book’! Even worse, I’ve heard it said that there are still communities who practice this gag rule on what is written. Now, is censorship a freedom of choice or an assault on freedom itself?
Today as I watch children in red white and blue streamers ride their bicycles in a parade, as I look forward to watching fireworks and enjoying barbecue and the company of friends, I am forever thankful that I live in a country that sees personal liberty as a given, in a land that offers freely what many in the world still die for. As our young nation walks toward the future, we will surely have struggles ahead of us and we will not always agree with one another, but at the end of the day each of us believes in the word for which this day stands.