When independence was officially declared in 1776, John Adams declared on that date it would be “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”
Ironically enough, it wasn’t until two days after his declaration, on July 4, 1776, that the final text of the Declaration of Independence was approved, and is obviously more widely recognized as America’s celebration of freedom from monarchical oppression.
This Fourth of July marks the 243rd anniversary of what is regarded as the birth of America. A lot has obviously changed in more than two centuries. Cars now line the roads formerly used by horses. Electricity, not candlelight, gives light to our homes and this editorial is written on a computer, not with a quill and scroll.
Yet over the centuries, there are many aspects of the American spirit and culture that we have to remain proud of, which several members of the Daily Herald Editorial Board were reminded of during Tuesday’s Freedom Awards Gala. This gala recognized four individuals who represented the prototypical American spirit.
Some comments from one of the honorees stuck out in particular. Tommy Asher is a retired firefighter from the Bronx, and when the planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Asher jumped into action, despite it being far from his service area.
Asher spent so much time at Ground Zero that he has recurring health problems to this day. Asher sacrificed his health and well-being to save two port authority police officers from the rubble of the Twin Towers. He wasn’t asked by his commanding supervisor to do this. He didn’t do it for praise or acclaim, though he did obviously receive honors later in life. Asher did so because it was the right thing to do. Though the men trapped in the debris were not his neighbors, Asher treated them as if they were, and didn’t give up until smoke inhalation from the rescue brought him to the hospital along with the people he was saving.
The instant Asher was cleared from the hospital, he rushed right back to wreckage and continued working relentlessly with fellow firefighters, electricians, welders and construction crews to clear the area and save every soul they could.
The spirit of community and fellowship among strangers as described is not uniquely American, nor do we try to say it is. Communities across the globe constantly join hands to lift each other and buoy up one another in times of trial, strife and hardship. But we’d argue that the spirit of brotherly love and kindness to one another is so deeply ingrained in the spirit and core of America, that the heartbeat of this nation would cease without it.
Complete strangers joined together to prove that the American spirit is indelible and does not fade, despite what our enemies may do. Why can’t strangers in our communities also join together to help each other in day-to-day tasks? Hopefully, such community action may never again amount to rebuilding Ground Zero. But as Asher said, patriotism is best exhibited by helping others. If a trash can is blown into the road, take it to your neighbor. If you see someone trip and fall, pull them back up.
We cannot ignore or push aside the hardships of the nation. This isn’t to brush away the many discords and dissensions between different political parties, religions and races in our country. And this isn’t to imply our nation cannot be better or improved. To love America doesn’t mean to ignore its flaws. To love America means to love it enough to want to fix its flaws. It means to never be satisfied with stagnation or “good enough.”
Civic engagement and participating in elections, including local elections, is one of the most proactive means to improve the communities within the U.S. Now, there may be disagreements between candidates and politicians. And maybe it’s blind optimism, but at the core of each debate is one probing question: What can be done to improve our country?
There are obviously politicians more interested in advancing their own interests rather than answering this question. History has proved that, and this is why elections are such a crucial part of our government to ensure the most responsible individuals are in position to better the country.
But as we take part in commemorate our nation’s independence, let’s celebrate what we are proud of: our kindness and compassion to one another. And for those problems that may seem like insurmountable difficulties for our nation to face, let’s work together as fellow Americans to make this country ever better and ever stronger.