The Fourth of July is a perfect all-American holiday celebrating Land of the Free. The stars and stripes at the beginning of parades are followed by bands playing patriotic songs as helicopters fly overhead. All this activity in celebration of signing the Declaration of Independence, which ultimately lead to the creation of the United States and the adoption of the Bill of Rights with its ensuing freedoms.
I didn't seriously think about what America's freedoms meant until I was in college. I was standing with a friend from Afghanistan waiting for a movie to begin on campus. We were surrounded by posters of candidates running for student government. I asked him if he was going to vote in the election. He said, "I've never voted for anything in my life." I remember that statement because I had been voting since I was old enough to raise my hand. I specifically recall voting for class officers in fifth grade as an exercise in the democratic process. The freedom to vote is an awesome privilege.
I was in Europe when I seriously considered freedom again. Germany was still a divided nation. At the time, civilians were not to go within a kilometer of the East/West German border, but a group of us received permission to go to the actual border. We went to the edge of a beautiful, green forest. There were no fences, wires, or other barriers. Only a post with a medallion marked the division. That is, until we looked past the post. A gray concrete tower stood several yards away. Our guide said we were probably being filmed by the armed guards at the time, and if we decided we wanted to take the medallion from the post as a souvenir we could legally be shot, because the post was on East German soil. The tower was intimidating, but it was the totally bare soil several yards wide beneath the tower that awed me. It was a mine field designed to keep its citizens inside. Intellectually, I knew about the border and the politics that created it, but seeing that mine field for myself made me reevaluate my freedom and those who are not free.
The library has numerous books written by and about people overcoming tremendous hardships to find freedom. Slavomir Rawicz tells of escaping from a Siberian Gulag, across the Gobi Desert and Himalayas to British India in "The Long Walk." In "Tears of the Desert," Halima Bashir chronicles her survival of the genocide in Darfur. "Elizabeth and Hazel" by David Margolick documents two women on opposite sides of the civil rights movement in the United States.
As you enjoy the festivities that the Fourth has to offer, I hope you'll reflect on the nature of freedom. It's a great thing to celebrate.