Here’s my list of things worthy of gratitude on this holiday:
The obvious one is being a citizen of the United States, enjoying the benefits of the grand experiment this country pioneered in 1776. Notwithstanding that the world and country are deeply troubled, the values upon which the U.S. was founded remain a source of promise and optimism.
Freedom, equality, opportunity.
We haven’t achieved them yet, and no doubt never will, however each generation moves closer to the vision. Our progress is not the result of a natural force, like gravity. Rather, it is often the result of hard-fought and painful challenge to the sources of status-quo: the prevailing wisdom, the center of institutional power, even evil. As Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century author, noted: “We owe almost all our knowledge, not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.”
We should be grateful for all those who saw a different world, helping to create the one we enjoy today. And as important, let us be sufficiently humble to consider that those with whom we differ may be leading society to a better tomorrow.
Secondly, I am mindful of the gift of each day.
A year ago this 4th of July, I was attending my wife’s family reunion. We were catching up and enjoying each other’s company before a backdrop of warm summer days full of laughter, plentiful food, fireworks, fishing, and minor league baseball. This year, my father-in-law is undergoing treatment for tongue cancer. His barbecued hamburger will be delivered via feeding tube, with a dose of morphine rather than a beer.
I am reminded that life can turn on a dime, leaving those halcyon days as memories. While we cannot change the course of life, we can live it with presence, so that our memories are of days enjoyed to the fullest. Henry David Thoreau expressed this same idea when he wrote of his rationale for moving to Walden Pond: “I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck the marrow out of life, to put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Now, to the most important item on my list. I am most grateful that my father-in-law’s prognosis is good. We fully expect he will be eating that hamburger, with a cold beer from the bottle, by summer’s end.