DEAR READERS: Happy Independence Day, America! As I think about this favorite American holiday, I become reflective. Naturally, many people think of the Fourth of July as the quintessential time for hot dogs, lemonade and family fun. But when you pay attention to the reason for the holiday, it can give you pause.
I consider the United States of America to be the greatest experiment in democracy. Our country was founded on the loftiest of ideals, including the belief that every one of us deserves -- indeed, has the right to -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who talks like that these days? Moreover, what does it mean to have those pursuits available to us?
We live in a world fraught with war, with poverty, with despair, with fear. Our prisons are crowded with individuals who have lost their freedom. Our hospitals are full of people who are on the verge of losing their lives. On our hallowed shores, many people battle all manner of conflicts that can make it impossible to even imagine pursuing happiness.
The news is littered with stories of people who have given up, who have committed the greatest offense by taking their own lives because they saw no value in them.
We are living in extreme times. The "haves" are growing in wealth, while the "have-nots" and the "have-less" are suffering without enough resources to adequately care for their families.
I do not mention these realities to make us sad or despondent. I am not encouraging us to hang our flags at half-staff. I mention these things to remind us of both the fragile nature of human life and, conversely, the amazing potential of the American spirit. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, the people who founded this great nation had the vision of a culture and society that treasured both the individual and the community. They understood that one way to ensure the growth and development of our country was to inspire each one of us with the promise that we could fulfill our potential to be our best.
I believe it is time for all of us to remember that promise and to figure out how to align ourselves with the possibility of fulfilling lives for ourselves, for our families and for our neighbors. When we wave our Stars and Stripes -- which symbolizes the sanctity of good will that has made our country a magnet for so many around the world -- let us take a moment to consider our commitment to our country.
So many young men and women have devoted their lives to protecting the freedoms that our country promises its citizens. What can each of us do to ensure that our country continues to treat each of its inhabitants with respect, dignity and faith in their potential? It is our duty to figure it out -- for ourselves and the future of our nation.