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Freedom for all

On the Bright Side

As a kid I loved the Fourth of July, even though I didn't really understand what it was all about. The Fourth of July meant big picnics on the farm in Iowa with extended family, playing with the cousins outside all day, watching the uncles set off fire works in the evening and us kids running around the yard with sparklers. Oh, and we always had homemade ice cream.

As a teen I loved the Fourth of July because in my small Iowa town there was always a parade (I was in the marching band) and a traveling carnival around the square downtown. I also loved watching the local volunteer fire fighters in water hose competitions, going for ice cream with friends, playing in the band for a concert early evening and later staking out a good spot in the park for the fireworks in the park after dark.

But through the years I matured and learned more about our country, and while I wasn't always thrilled with the idea that the fireworks represented "the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" I was thrilled that my nation so desired freedom and autonomy for its people that I could easily not think so much about the price of that freedom.

But through more years I went through phases of loving the celebrations – especially at the KYGO Country Music Concert in downtown Denver, fireworks after a ball game here and there, picnics with friends and always ice cream – and phases of not wanting to celebrate at all.

Those latter phases were a result of coming to know a lot of history and to personally experience how short my beautiful country was in living up to the ideals upon which it was based. Too many people were not free or equal, too many people were more equal than others, and war was always going on in the background whether anyone knew what we were fighting for or not.

This summer I don't quite know how to feel about our most American holiday. It's hard to celebrate our freedoms when so many of our citizens still aren't free, and while so many people don't seem to want to even acknowledge what a free country means for everyone in it. This year more than others, it seems like so many people think freedom for themselves is the goal and to heck with anyone else. And soldiers are still dying (and not always for the cause of freedom).

But we live in a free country, a free society. And freedom isn't always easy, and it isn't free, and it isn't always pretty when there are two or more people gathered together and both of their respective desired freedoms directly negate the other's. The reality of everyone being free means that everyone also makes sacrifices. You may not drive on the left hand side of the road whenever you want, you may not yell "fire!" in a crowded room just because you think it might be fun to see people panic, you may not paint your house the color you want if you live in a place with restrictive homeowner covenants.

We live in a society, in a free country, which means there are rules everyone should live by and everyone should have the same rights. You may not be free to run around naked in public but you are free to walk around your house with no clothes on (providing the other people you live with are okay with it). You are free to marry whom you want but you are not free to deny someone else the same right. You're free to go to whatever church you want, and you are free to not go to any church if you want; you are not free to try to legislate that anyone else has to believe as you do.

Freedom is hard. Following the rules and respecting other people's rights to freedom and equality is sometimes hard. But that's the ideal, that's the deal. If we want to be a freedom loving country, then we have to understand that everyone in it must have the same freedoms and follow the same rules or we are lost.

I don't feel much like celebrating this year, but I am heartened that with all the turmoil going on in our nation right now, we are closer than ever to actually realizing the promise of the great American experiment, that all are created equal and that all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And of course, no matter what else I choose to do on the Fourth of July, there will be ice cream.

© Marilda Mel White. Mel is a local photographer/writer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove. She's been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996 and welcomes your comments at [email protected].