I have always fancied myself an independent thinker. I've registered as an independent voter. I lived on my own in my own apartment (not even a roommate) for almost 20 years. I majored in philosophy. I didn't follow the crowd.
My independent life was glorious in many ways; lonely in others. I treasured my parents. I never moved farther away than 25 miles from my home. I have never been willing to leave such treasures as those I love for the excitement of a truly independent life.
Every year as our Independence Day approaches, I remind myself not to call it the Fourth of July. I remind myself to acknowledge that I've been fortunate to live in a country that allowed me to create the type of independent life that I wanted.
This was not always my way of celebrating "the fourth." Cookouts and fireworks and patriotic music and toasts and parades - that's how I celebrated.
Now, every year, I remember a single, very brief encounter I had one Independence Day in the 1970s.
Of course, I had forgotten my potluck contribution for the party I was about to attend, so off I went to a convenience store to spend too much money on something that I would have to alter wildly - so that it would appear creatively planned.
I was the only customer for a few minutes and in walked two very tall young men.They made me nervous because they were staring at me. I pictured the front page of the evening paper announcing a massacre in the little store - I with my American flag t-shirt, lying on the floor.
One of the fellows approached me. And, I'm sure I was quite rude. He held out his hand. I was so nervous that I couldn't speak (very rare for me, indeed). After a moment I realized he wanted to shake my hand. So, afraid not to comply, I gave him my hand uneasily.
He shook my hand so hard it hurt. I was instantly relieved that I'm left-handed. Still afraid, I said nothing.
And then, he said to me in an thick, unrecognizable accent [I remember this almost verbatim], "hello, miss, congratulations on your Independence Day. How lucky you are to live in a country where you don't have to be afraid to live your life!"
I thanked him in return. He introduced me to his friend. I have forgotten both their names. I have never forgotten them. I have never forgotten that the Fourth of July is really Independence Day, and so is every other day.
And every year I cry for those who can't live their lives without fear. And every year I thank that young man. And every year I try to remember that I am fortunate, even during tough times like these.