Several thoughts come to my mind when I think of the 4th. It is America’s Independence Day. Americans typically celebrate it with friends, family, and fireworks. It is most American’s favorite holiday. For me, it is a reminder of the last day that I saw my little brother, Jorge. As all of my friends, enjoy the festivities of the 4th, my mind goes back to 21 years ago. 21 years ago, my family was celebrating in Anton, Texas. Anton is a very small farming community in West Texas, where my grandparents lived, and we were doing what most other American families do; we were eating, laughing, and playing with sparklers. We were enjoying our freedom, but early the morning of the 5th, my little brother tragically died in a car accident. I had never felt such deep, agonizing pain before. I had never seen my family in so much sadness. I had never lived in such confusion. Our happy-go-lucky family had just experienced the WORST thing that could happen – the loss of someone who had the most vibrant spirit – someone who had just graduated from high school – someone who was going to make our family proud as he was headed to play college football. His death changed our family’s dynamic. I still can witness the collateral damage that emerged from his premature death. In the same vein, I can still witness what his loss has done for our family in positive way. He is our angel, and he reminds us that family comes first, that family always loves and always forgives one another, and he reminds us to HAVE FUN with family. He also reminds me to LAUGH LOUDLY, because he had the best and loudest laugh of anyone I have ever known.
Back to the 4th…over the past 2 decades, as everyone else continues to enjoy the celebrations that the 4th brings, I have always been a little jealous. How could they be so happy, when my family is so sad? As the years passed, and as I began to join in on the festivities, I would always have a twinge of guilt. Should I be having fun when this holiday reminds me so much of him? Am I somehow disrespecting his memory by laughing and enjoying my friends and my community? These feelings have always been a tug-of-war, and this year, happiness won the tug. It whole-heartedly won the tug. Was it a taste of freedom after so much isolation from Coronavirus? Was it that my dad’s spirit is up there with his, so I know that they are not alone in the spirit world? Was it that time really does heal wounds? Was it that I was surrounded by so much happiness that it pulled the tug-of-war so that happiness prevailed? I’m still not sure. The weekend is still such a new memory.
What I DO know is that we were able to bring some members of our military community together, while still being cautious of space, physical distancing, and preserving a healthy atmosphere. I can’t take full responsibility for the celebrations. Actually, I don’t know that I can take ANY responsibility for it. I found a good place to celebrate. I bought and prepared a bunch of food, but that was about all I could do. With the combination of still mourning my brother’s death and having a healthy fear of the pandemic that is affecting so many lives, after finding a place, and coming up with the food, I stopped dead in my tracks. I invited 1 good friend, and then I left the invitations up to her. If she didn’t invite anyone, I would be good. If she did invite people, maybe I would be better. Fortunately, she invited people and gave me the courage to reach out to a couple of people too. Our community would come together in this foreign land to eat, play, and laugh – to acknowledge our Independence – to enjoy our Freedom – to be a COMMUNITY.
I don’t know that I will ever have a 4th of July holiday celebration that is as good as the ones when Jorge was around, but what I can say is that COMMUNITY helps. Allowing other people to help you helps. Being surrounded by happiness helps. Remembering that the holiday is so much more than just you helps. It is a symbol of so many people, who risked their lives for something so much BIGGER than themselves, people who would make the ultimate sacrifice, people who had hope, people who believed, and people who would ultimately give us FREEDOM.
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.