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Discovering independence

In Other Words

 


Next week marks one of my favorite holidays of the calendar year -- Independence Day. I love this holiday because it is typically a day filled with simple good cheer. I find it an easy holiday to celebrate. The weather is usually warm and pleasant. Friends and family gather around barbecues, lakes, and pools to laugh and simply be together. It is an uncomplicated day filled with little family drama or outsized expectations, like many holidays can be. On the surface, the 4th of July is purely a day to have fun, watch some fireworks, eat, drink, and be merry.

In years past I’ve spent the morning of the 4th with 60,000 of my closest friends, running the largest 10K road race in the world. With 150,000 spectators cheering on the runners, the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta has always been a festive way to kick off the holiday. This year, family will be traveling across the country to spend the day with us, and we’ll enjoy a far more peaceful day lazing on the lake instead of running the streets with a mob.

As Independence Day draws closer, I watch my 3-year-old daughter discover her own independence. In fact, as I watch her, the term “independence” has taken on a whole new meaning. Before I was a parent, independence had a clear definition, one I always associated with fighting the British and declaring a self-ruling republic. But being a parent forces one to look at life through a different lens. I can see that to a child, independence is something they covet from their parents. My daughter’s first strung-together sentence was, “I do it myself!” A clear sign that she needed some independence from me. The need is so strong that if she is not following my directions, all I have to do is the time-proven method of counting to three. I always assumed parents did this with the threat of some punishment. But for my own child, the threat is simply that if she doesn’t comply by the time I reach three, I will do the task — whatever that may be — for her. She almost always complies before I reach three, the need for independence far outpacing her need to ignore my instructions. I’m sure that as she grows older, her need for independence will become even clearer.

To be independent is not only something children in our society strive for. Independence means something different at each age in our lives, for each person, each religion and nationality. Independence and the freedom it offers means something different for Jewish Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and countless others. Independence means something different to a 10-year-old than it does to an 80-year-old. Some are just learning to stretch their wings and declare their independence, while on the opposite spectrum our elderly are clutching their independence tightly, unwilling to have their wings clipped.

Each Independence Day I’m always slightly surprised by how proud we are as a nation to be independent, even if it is so casually celebrated at a barbecue and fireworks show. It shouldn’t surprise me, but 236 years later, I find that becoming, and maintaining, an independent nation is still something worth celebrating. These freedoms trickle all the way down to my 3-year-old, able to find and define her own independence. There are many freedoms to celebrate this 4th of July, large and small, and finding and appreciating each one of those is our privilege.

 

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