I love July Fourth. Not so much the holiday, I suppose, but what it represents. The sentiments and ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence are something almost holy.
The government doesn’t rule by rifles and cudgels but the consent of the governed. The state doesn’t exist for the benefit of the rulers but to take care of the needs of the people. Other nations around the world remind us of what we here take for granted.
At the time, the day meant nothing and the proceeding centuries have been filled with our infidelity to the covenant, but while as a nation we remained adulterous, our constant goal and motion has remained toward this ideal. Through this, we have filled the day with meaning. For this, we have much to celebrate.
Last year, I had to work the night of Independence Day. Apparently, news doesn’t stop happening for holidays. But it wasn’t all bad; we got our work done and were able to take a break and watch the Firecracker Fandango. We went on the roof and joined about a dozen people already there. There wasn’t a better spot in the city, short of the American State Bank building roof.
The show was impressive, I admit. All of those explosions, carefully varied in magnitude, color and pacing, timed and synchronized to fill a tight section of sky. So well-designed and spectacular.
I soon hated it.
It went on too long, and while it went, the preciseness of it turned numbingly boring. I couldn’t stand to watch anymore.
But I couldn’t leave, either. There was no work to do and no one to do it with. I looked around at the city, at the lights stretched out over the ground, gleaming. (If the sky is pretty, the earth more so.) And at the edge of my perception, leaping up from the horizon, were tiny, pitiful fireworks being shot off by no one in particular. Very literally, it was amateur hour. To the south and west, especially, the fireworks came. In bursts, in regular succession they came, with patterns so complex people must have been communicating all across the city, they came. So clumsily it was embarrassing, they came.
By any measure, it was inferior to the Fandango. And this was during an exceptionally dry year following many wildfires. Those people were breaking the law and endangering many. Nothing could justify it.
But who can measure beauty, and what justification does it need? What the other show lacked, it didn’t want.
Look up at night and be amazed. Rhythm and order are attributes of the celestial. In the heavens we naturally see echoes of God.
The dance of the heavens is lovely for its predictability and perfection, but like angels they follow the laws given to them because they must.
Men are not angels.
Humanity is wonderful because of choice, because our reason knowing right, we may still choose to err. By this, all behavior is meaningful. “Sufficient to have stood, but free to fall.” Were it otherwise, we’d be a Terracotta Army, standing loyally, standing always. At the very least, the fall puts us in motion. At the very least, there is some energy in that.
Behaving selfishly and stupidly and inadequately, we are still capable of creating great and wondrous and exciting beauty that outshines all the luminosity given off by mechanical precision. This is the source of all of our dignity.
It’s the idea of Independence Day that unites us. In our lives, we exercise our liberty to pursue happiness. We are not compelled. And under this we choose to take collective action without threat of punishment.
We’re as likely to be wrong as right. But there’s nothing wrong with that, and everything right.