I know there are many non-sports fans out there. But I saw something on Keith Olbermann’s ESPN show last night that kind of summed up what the 4th of July is really all about.
I didn’t know that Lou Gehrig made his famous speech on the Fourth of July, but I was incredibly moved by both his speech and Olbermann’s commentary on it. What makes this speech so special, what makes it important, is that embodies everything good in human beings. Gehrig can be held up as an ideal of American values. Not because he played baseball, but because he understood just how fortunate he was to be able to play that game for a living. To be able to choose his own path. He was in control of his own life, and even though a disease no one could control ended it, he choose the way he left the public eye, with dignity and grace.
These days a lot of people talk about the government trying to control out lives too much. We should have the right to do this, or the freedom to do that. Taxes and healthcare and various laws protecting safety are all criticized for infringing on our rights. But that’s not true. The government’s job is to protect its citizens–even if that means protecting them from themselves. All the things people criticize the most about the government are precisely the things it needs to be doing. Welfare, subsidized health insurance, unemployment insurance, healthy school lunches, all of it. That’s just the government doing its job. Taking care of us.
We still have plenty of freedom. We can go to the mall, and buy virtually anything we want. We can choose what job we do, where we live, how many children we have (or don’t have). We get to choose how we pray, or even whether or not we should pray. Most of us are allowed to choose who we marry. We get to vote. We are allowed to protest our government, peacefully, without fear of persecution or prosecution. We can say, in public, how much we hate our elected officials, and we can rest easily knowing that they will not come knocking on our doors to take away our money, belongings, and home. The Constitution guarantees that. Just like the Declaration of Independence states that all people are born with the same rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Notice that happiness itself is not guaranteed, just the ability to pursue it. So before you go around complaining about all the infringing the government (or anyone else, for that matter) is doing on your rights, take a few minutes to find out what those rights are. Ask yourself how much freedom you actually do have– how many of the limitations on how you live your life are a result of government interference, and how many are the result of the choices you yourself have made in living it.
And while you’re at it, listen to Lou Gehrig’s speech. And remember that you are one of the luckiest people to have ever lived.