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Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrating Our Independence

Today is July 4, Independence Day. It is a day many celebrate with cook-outs, parades and fireworks. But how many people stop to think what Independence Day actually means?

Independence Day marks the birth of the United States of America as an independent country, no longer a colony of Great Britain, no longer subject to the at-times tyrannical rules and taxes of the 'mother country'. But beyond that historical fact, for me, it means a time to pause and think about the greatness of America.

I know, we have been going through a rough time economically. Costs are high, far too many Americans are unemployed, the national debt keeps growing by leaps and bounds while Congress and the White House do nothing to deal with the tough choices that must be made. Our soldiers continue to fight and die in two seemingly unwinnable wars on the far side of the world. Attacks on the environment and the animals trying to co-exist with us continue unabated. We seem to have sold our soul to China. Many people are struggling to pay their bills and hold on to their houses. Things look pretty bleak, especially in comparison with the America of days past. Remember the TV series 'Happy Days'? Well, these aren't happy days for many people. Our country seems adrift and less-than-united.

But think about it. We who are fortunate to live in this great country have so many things for which we should be grateful. Food may be expensive, but there are no food shortages. There are programs to help feed those who need assistance. Our country is safe, with no civil wars or ethnic fighting. We are free to move about the country unrestricted, limited only by our desires and our finances, to live wherever we choose to live. We can practice our religion, or no religion, as we wish. If we are American citizens, we are free to vote in elections -- a right not available to people in many countries. In other places, citizens literally risk their lives to cast their ballots.

We can speak our minds without fear of retribution or arrest. We can gather in peaceful protests against the government or a business without fear of being shot or dragged off to an uncertain fate.

For me, the best thing about living in America is the chance to decide the course of my own life. That is true independence. I studied what I wanted to study in college. When I wanted to switch careers, nobody told me I couldn't. I vote my conscience. I am free to volunteer and donate money to causes that mean the most to me. I can set up my own Web-based business, with no fear that some government agency might shut it down because I violated some political line of thinking. I can have heated discussions and not fear that my neighbor or relative will report me to the authorities.

All of these great things don't come without a price, of course. Hundreds of thousands of American military personnel are serving in the most dangerous places on Earth -- Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where simply being American puts them at huge risk. Thousands have died in those two countries alone.

As the saying goes, "Freedom is not free." So on this Independence Day, take a moment between the hamburgers and the parades and the fireworks. Think about those brave men who took the bold step more than 200 years ago to form this great country, facing charges of treason from Great Britain. Think about all those who have served, and who are serving, to make this country great and to keep it free and independent. Think about the many choices and decisions you have been able to make, independent of government influence or coercion.

Then go out and celebrate our country's, and your, independence.