By Will Baker
As I drove into the office this morning I saw summer hanging lazily over the sleepy Vermont villages that my commute took me through. Even in the summertime, the nights are often cool here, yet soon after sunrise, the fog burns off and the heat of the day begins to express itself. As I drove on, I passed gardeners toiling in their plots early, so as to avoid the heat. Mist still lingered in the mountain hollows, and kids were gathering, newly liberated from the school semester just passed, to plan their days activities. Summertime in Vermont: there is nothing so sweet anywhere. How truly blessed and fortunate I felt to be alive, living in this beautiful place. And then I saw the row of flags, newly planted for the holiday, along the road, which swept through the little village of Shelburne. I knew from past experience that these flags were put out by the town, to commemorate Independence Day, which is being celebrated next week.
And those flags and the children playing made me think about the meaning of liberty. Of course, exemption from compulsion came to mind, yet as folks that live in a democratic society we are compelled to follow certain actions. For example, as motorists, many of us who encounter a red light, would feel compelled by the law to stop the car until the light turns green. But this is voluntary compulsion. For, in theory, the laws that we collectively live by were formulated by us, through due process by folks who we elected to represent us. And there are many more examples such as this, illustrating this type of voluntary compulsion, that come to mind.
But then I tried to imagine what it is like to live under circumstances whereby one is compelled to take action in a manner that is inconsistent with ones wishes. Yet as a twenty-first century American, in all honesty, I had a hard time visualizing this. It seems to me that we are far removed from the experiences of our forefathers, and that there is good and bad in this reality. The goodness lays in the fact that we do not possess this understanding because we have had no direct experience with collective repression. Of course, certain cohorts among us, such as folks of color or women, could rightfully argue that discrimination does occur, but it seems to me that this is far removed from the type of widespread repression that we have been discussing. The "badness" in this situation might relate to the fact that, since our collective experience with repression is now part of the historical past, it may now be difficult for us to understand, as a people, how truly fortunate we are to enjoy the liberty that we have created for ourselves, and to empathize with those folks who currently do not enjoy it.
Based upon my interaction with my readers, I know that the Internet has provided me with broad exposure. I have received comments regarding my work from folks from all around the world, so I can easily imagine that there will be some readers of this piece who have had direct experience with the type of repression, and general lack of liberty noted above. And I have had direct experience with wanting something badly, which I did not possess, while having an awareness of others that had the very thing that I yearned for--the expression: "youth is wasted on the young," comes to mind. Therefore, I can imagine how folks who have experienced repression might view us fortunate Americans: perhaps as being somewhat jaded, and taking our freedoms for granted.
These were my thoughts as I neared my office. But then, due to the pace of my very busy workday, thoughts of liberty, and repression and children and flags were soon pushed aside. And as I write these words, I have to struggle to recapture the moment. And next week, I will attend the Fourth of July parade in the tiny village of Bristol, snuggled in an out of the way mountain valley. And it seems to me that, unless I try hard not to, the spectacle will hold little value for me other than the pure enjoyment of experiencing a piece of Americana that is rapidly disappearing from our cultural landscape. Clearly there is value in that enjoyment yet I believe that our Independence Day celebrations could be more than that. However it might be asking too much of a people, sated with freedom, to try to imagine being without the very thing that enabled this condition. And I do wonder how the rest of the world views our Independence Day celebration.
As I re-read our Declaration of Independence, I could hear the words flowing from Thomas Jeffersons quill. Among other things he wrote: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." And it seems to me, to a degree these words might be timeless. For they certainly had power in TJs day, but shouldnt they still resonate with us today? I believe that, as we go forward, our fate as a people remains linked. Two hundred and twenty four years ago we made this pledge to each other, and were he alive today, I wonder how well Mr. Jefferson might think that we have honored it.