An Ode to Freedom

I am not patriotic. I don’t like red, white and blue. I mean, I don’t like the colors. I’m not particularly a flag person, either. The only time I reacted to the flag was shortly after 9/11. The color guard marched in at a University of Memphis game, and everyone stood up like they meant it. Even then, the wave that washed over me was more a response to the honoring of the choice these young people made to serve their country before it was popular.
Still, it bothers me when I can’t find a window into something so universally held as 4th of July patriotism.
*
On our way to Overton Park, Tom driving, me sitting in the backseat of the convertible, the wind blowing the dog’s hair, I thought, this is my definition of happiness. Traveling North Parkway to walk through an old forest situated slap in the middle of Memphis, the forest still in existence only because a group of Memphis women protested the ramming on an interstate right through its gullet. I lean back against the bucket seat. The arbor of trees throws off dappled light. We’ll soon be deep inside the shaded paths of the forest. The dog turns to me, her eyes bright. I hold onto my ball cap so it won’t escape.
*
“The pursuit of happiness,” the founders said. This is the freedom they gave to me. The freedom to decide for myself what constitutes happiness. It might be smoothing down my dog’s fly away hair. It might the dappled light on my upturned face. It might be the scent of smoke permeating the picnic area. It doesn’t matter: it’s mine to decide. I could be the only person in the country who defines as 4th of July happiness the quick hug Tom gives the dog as he lifts her from the car. What this country gives me is the right to pursue that happiness.
*
On the way home, we pass the Coast Guard station. The station sits across the harbor from our house. When our bedroom windows are open, we hear the Coast Guard playing reveille. This endears them to me. I’m aware of the 4th of July sentiment that asks me to focus on our freedoms being made possible by our every-ready military. I prefer to focus on you. I want to thank you for your belief that my happiness does not have to be yours. That, in this country, no one will ever tell my husband our religious society prohibits him from shaving his head for the summer or tell me I can’t practice law in our culture because that’s a “man’s job” or ban you from lacing on your tennis shoes and protecting your park just because you love it. Thank you for my freedom. Thank you for my 4th of July happiness.

4th of July, freedom, Memphis, overton park, pursuit of happiness

Comments (4)

  • What I like about the 4th is that it is for all of us–no matter what we look like, how tall we are or where we came from. I like it, too for the reasons Ellen cites. And I also like it b/c people all over our neighborhood come together to celebrate and watch the kids (and dogs) on parade. There are drinks, snow cones,
    hot dogs, adult beverage and a judge who sings the National Anthem. A fine party and a fine day.

  • I don’t think the 4th of July is just a celebration of freedom but also a time of thanksgiving for those who helped to obtain and to sustain that freedom. The Declaration of Independence was just the beginning. Lots of dead bodies, wounded men and women, and destroyed lives have followed that original declaration . I think the 4th is a sacred day.

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