Words to Remember

On the evening of the Fourth, I was participating in our community celebration at the state fairgrounds here in Sedalia. It was not unlike what many small towns in the Midwest do on Independence Day, I guess. I saw older couples tottering up the stairs into the grandstands, lots of young families with strollers and water bottles, little kids excitedly waiting for darkness and the fireworks to begin, and a few politicians working the crowd. There was a local band playing country music to pass the time as more folks filed in and the sun sank lower in the sky. A few organizers and community leaders gathered, said a few words and recognized outstanding citizens for helping to make our town a great place to live. When the time was right, the VFW marched in with Old Glory, we stood for the national anthem, and then the sky came to life, glistening and exploding with a great fireworks display, complete with "Ooohs!" and "Aaahs!" and lots of cheers.

But the best moment for me was earlier, at the beginning of our festivities. Before anything else had happened, I saw something truly remarkable. To start things off, our local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored something I had never witnessed before. First, a young boy in colonial dress came along carrying a large Betsy Ross, thirteen star flag and shouting "Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!" The restless crowd quieted. A tall man came to the stage dressed as if he had just come from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He unrolled a wide sheet of pretend parchment and with a strong voice began to read:

"In Congress, July 4, 1776, the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people . . ."

I was standing behind our patriot reader and I could look over his shoulder and see the faces of hundreds of people in the crowd. Every eye upon him, he read those stirring words:

"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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

All kinds of people, some poor and others well-to-do, the well-educated and the uneducated, all riveted to the speaker and his timeless words. It's a fair guess that most of the folks, like myself, had never heard anyone just stand up and read the Declaration of Independence and they seemed to hang on every word. On and on he read, reciting the litany of grievances against King George and Parliament. Still, the hushed crowd listened like children in a one room schoolhouse, or perhaps like the first crowd of ordinary folks who heard those words read 234 years ago. And when he came to the words, "solemnly publish and declare, that these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States," I sensed that some in the crowd wanted to cheer and a few even wiped away a tear. The concluding words are the most sobering of all and still bring a lump to my throat:

"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."

I won't forget that moment or the many faces I saw last night. Maybe every July 4th, we should all sit down and listen and remember who we are and why we are here.


John McCallum said…
What a moment! Thanks for recounting it. Just saw something similar on the mini-series "John Adams." We forget how powerful that founding document still is in the heart of any free person and any American who appreciates the sacrifices others made in our behalf. Thanks again!

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