July 4, 2017 marked the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 41 years ago I had the good fortune to celebrate the Bicentennial in Paris, France at an outdoor barbecue held outside the US Embassy. I was 15 at the time, and I remember just feeling pride in our nation that day. As I reflect on that memory I feel that same sense of pride I felt then.
There is no doubt this nation has challenges, and to be sure there are inequalities we as a nation must address, but without question we are blessed to live in this great land. Yet, with this good fortune comes a responsibility. We must always exemplify the values espoused by our founding fathers. Were they perfect? Clearly not, but the values they founded this country on remain a standard to which we must all aspire.
It is easy to criticize who our forefathers were and to emphasize what is wrong in this nation, but I echo Teddy Roosevelt when he said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
We must all be that man or woman in the arena who strives to do their best because this nation is a light to other nations. Few of us know that the United States leads the world in charitable giving, but it does, and it is because the people of this nation are at their core generous. Imperfect yes, but always striving to reach a lofty ideal.
It is not something we often talk about, but this striving is exemplified in the political debate that so often vexes us. It is in the little kindnesses people of this nation often extend to others, and it is in the everyday exercise of freedoms we have that many in the world do not. It is in the struggle to ensure equality and in the wrestle to determine what the legacy to our children will be, and it is in the messiness that is this republic.
I had the good fortune to meet an immigrant from Germany who in his youth had seen Nazism first hand; as we discussed his past he told me we in this country did not know what we had, and to be candid I felt some guilt as I realized I sometimes was not grateful for what I have.
So, be that man or woman in the arena. Vote. Write your representative; give of your time; protest injustice, and engage in a cause. Celebrate freedom. Together we can continue to hold high the lamp of freedom.