I sat away from the crowd, close enough to hear but far enough to discourage conversation.
As often is the case on America’s birthday, my buddy CJ, dressed as George Washington, reads the Declaration of Independence over the PA to a pack of onlookers. I make it my habit to sit somewhere undisturbed and listen. I’ve probably done the same thing a half-dozen times, often moved to tears. I marvel at the courage, foresight and conviction of those imperfect men who wrote those words.
I would guess no verse ever written has had a greater impact on my life, if you don’t count my wife-authored wedding vows where I promised to never wear a thong or dance in public. I can’t claim to have committed that ultimatum to King George to memory, but every time I hear it recited it astounds me. Our Founding Fathers were wickedly smart.
The document reads, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Yes, Thomas Jefferson was a bit long-winded (“See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya” would have sufficed) but what weighty words they were. America was pretty much breaking up with Great Britain, the most powerful country on the planet.
Now granted, the phrase, “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” written by guys who owned slaves smacks of hypocrisy. But in their defense, those were different times where even some of the best and brightest were numb to the concept of equality. On the positive side, it serves to remind us how much our nation has evolved and still needs to.
Certainly it is easy to judge someone, or something, 245 years passed through a 2021 lens and see inconsistencies. Obviously, I can’t speak for those who arrived in the country in chains or the Native Americans who were here when we arrived. For the descendants of those folks, we still have some distance to travel toward a level playing field.
I am the grandchild of four immigrants from two countries who is delighted that they chose this one to stake their claim. And though I can see the upside to being a citizen of the UK, with free health care and a country where I would be considered sun-tanned, I’m happy our nation kicked Great Britain to the curb to go our own way.
Before CJ read the document that would shape all our lives, my town hosted a parade that was reflective of our community’s quirky uniqueness.
The parade was led off by over 700 mountain bike racers (most with the body fat of a claw hammer) to begin a 50-mile journey with 8,000 feet of climbing.
Once the racers passed, there were a host of parade entrants, from creative to not, but all were celebrating the accident of birth or circumstance that caused them to be born or to live in America. For me, it was a feel-good morning that was only enhanced by the recitation of the words that made it all possible.
By following along as best as my memory would allow, I could tell that CJ was wrapping up with, “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.”
It seems our Founding Fathers assumed a fair amount of divine endorsement in regards to our nation’s birthright, which personally I feel is a stretch. I can’t believe “our Creator” prefers us to Britain, Bulgaria or Liechtenstein. But I do believe that though our nation is much younger than many hotels in those countries, the foresight of our Founding Fathers and the courage of our revolutionaries created a great, though imperfect, nation, where all things are possible and evolving. I feel undeservedly blessed to live here, even if I am not allowed to dance in public.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at email@example.com.