I always have this sense of “oh crap” on the 4rth of July because, for some reason, it means that summer is half over. That, of course, is nonsense. The Summer Solstice was June 20 and the Fall Equinox will be September 22. That means summer is ninety-five days. We are at day 15.
Perhaps my sense of doom derives from the perspective of a child. Summer in those days was measured not by celestial events but by the start and end of school, roughly the second week of June to the middle of August. July 4th was about the halfway point of that period.
Farmers used to see July 4rth as a growth marker for corn. “Knee high by the 4rth of July” was an expectation. Today, corn is way higher than that by the 4rth.
On this day, the common thing many of us will do is to stand, like children, watching the darkness above as fireworks burst before us, dazzling our vision. It never seems to get tiresome.
We commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the war of independence that followed. The men and women of the colonies put everything on the line for us. Thomas Jefferson’s words ring out.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I have read that these words have no antecedent in previous philosophies. They were original to the Declaration of Independence. They expressed a novel idea, a radical idea. A country was never before founded on such an idea. It denied thousands of years of history. It said there is no privileged class; there is no one better than anyone else. There is no one who deserves more than anyone else, or less.
It is an ideal that we are far from realizing even today. Yet, it is the foundation of our social and political values.
We celebrate today, not a piece of paper, not a war; we celebrate an idea. That idea is as explosive and awe inspiring as the fireworks we employ in its remembrance.