Like most civic holidays, the meaning of the Fourth of July has been diluted. As Memorial Day has gone from honoring sacrifice to the official start of summer, the Fourth of July is a celebration of life, fun, family and charred meat.
I don't have a problem with that. I love fireworks.
But there are times when the meaning of Independence Day demands deeper reflection. It's usually when we find ourselves in trouble -- Vietnam, launching a war over WMDs that were a fiction of geopolitical strategists.
As our current wars, one hopes, wind their way toward some kind of resolution, the trouble we find ourselves in today -- and the need for a reflection on independence -- is the dimensions of its meaning.
I'm struck by the absence of irony in among those who exalt our independence at the same time they work to apportion its benefits.
Be free... unless you claim sovereignty over your own body, marry in combinations that don't fit the definitions derived from personal interpretation of scripture, believe in the life-changing research into stem cells, or choose to create families outside the norms of mom and dad and the kids.
This is America, my friend -- which means I have the freedom to demand that you curtail yours. I know what's best for you -- because my God and the framers of the Constitution say so.
It's a certainty that has led us lately to probe the minds and intentions of long-dead men who wrote a document that continues to shape lives in a world they could not have anticipated any more than we can anticipate the rules for the colonization of Venus.
Their courage and incandescent brilliance duly noted, so is their fallibility -- evidenced by their consensus that blacks count three-fifths of whites and women are not to be trusted with the same rights as men.
The Declaration of Independence was a statement that we intend to run this place the way we want. The Constitution was the blueprint for how we're going to do it.
That blueprint cannot be a literal guide more than the blueprint for a Model T can be a guide to building a Lexus. But the basics are still the same -- a motor, drive shaft, four wheels and a steering wheel.
So let's keep it simple.
That part about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" still means exactly what it says. To the extent that I don't harm others or the common good, independence means my life, my liberty, my happiness.
If we're a country that truly believes in freedom, then we're a country that lets each of us shape our independence around our own definitions.