It seems like just yesterday it was Memorial Day, and here it is Independence Day weekend. Where does the time go?
We have a family tradition here that around the 4th of July we watch the musical “1776.” If you’re not familiar with it, the play opened on Broadway in 1969 and it was made into a movie in 1972. Although it’s obvious that this was shortly before the bicentennial, if you weren’t around at that time, it’s kind of hard to appreciate the full emotional impact.
America had been through the Viet Nam War and the Watergate fiasco; as the bicentennial approached it gave us a reason to celebrate what was right with America and look forward with great hope to the future. We understood that America wasn’t perfect and our form of government had its frailties, but it seemed to offer more than any other alternative.
Whether it was the authors’ intention or not, “1776” captures those emotions. The founding fathers are portrayed as far less than perfect. John Adams is the central character and is frequently referred to as “obnoxious and disliked.” Thomas Jefferson is brilliant, if a little hard to get engaged, and Ben Franklin is portrayed as, well, Ben Franklin. Adam’s was the brains behind the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson its spirit and Franklin the heart (as well as the plucky comic relief.) Franklin brings both the characters and the viewers back down to earth; I suspect he may have done so in real life as well.
George Washington does not make a personal appearance, but instead is depicted through a series of dispatches in which he begs the Continental Congress for supplies, direction and recognition of the challenges the Continental Army faced.
In the movie, our forefathers are not portrayed as marble busts or perfect gentlemen with a keen understanding or great wisdom. Instead they are shown as being humans – talented and intelligent humans to be sure but as human as the rest of us.
This always gives me hope.
Our country was not created by superheroes, but by ordinary men. These were men who had been born and raised as subjects of the British Crown and Englishmen. Today we not only have men such as these, but also women and leaders of all colors from every corner of the world. These people today are just as imperfect as the Founding Fathers, and every bit as capable.
In the movie, the members of Congress devolve into squabbles and block progress to protect their personal priorities, yet they accomplish what had never been accomplished before. It tells us that such things are possible. If they were possible then, how much more can we accomplish today?
Every American should celebrate Independence Day in some way. In our family it includes a way to envision what real people in a real world can accomplish.
Have a great Holiday Weekend.