Fireworks. BBQ. Corn on the cob and watermelon. Our Independence Day celebrations might not look exactly like John Adams imagined, but they’re typically pretty close.
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Like the Midsummer Festival celebrations across the world, we can’t help but embrace the summer heat and enjoy the season’s harvests. Our hearts swell at the national anthem and stop briefly at the pop and boom of fireworks.
This is a difficult year to write about the Fourth of July - let alone to live through it. As our nation wades its way through the struggles of the last six months, it is easy to feel as though we have little to celebrate. But John Adam’s words ring true: the end justifies the means. Things must break down in order to be built back stronger, better, and more free. I chose him of all our founding fathers to contemplate at this time as I believe his vision for America and the way he lived his life is one we could all examine more closely at this time.
John Adams was descended from Puritan immigrants and the son of a deacon. He was a lawyer who defended the soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre and slaves petitioning for freedom. At the Congressional Congress he fought fiercely for the Bill of Rights. His marriage to his wife Abigail is perhaps one of the defining aspects of his life: she was a confidante, friend, and advisor in a time when many did not have this intimate of a relationship with their wives. His biographer described him as a committed Christian and a free thinker.
It was John Adam’s vision that shaped the America we live in now. He envisioned a nation of free men (and women, thanks to his wife’s encouragement) who could live their lives as they wished and free from tyranny. It’s this America that allows us to live side by side with those who make choices that are different from our own. We are free to practice whichever religion brings us comfort and peace - with no fear of persecution from our government. We are free to choose how we live our lives even in small ways- from our diet choices to how we spend our free time.
But this doesn’t come without struggle. Change of any sort is hard. Anyone who has ever changed their life will be the first to tell you that, whether that change is to stop eating meat, quit smoking, or simply be more active. The body reacts to change, even change that is good for it, in a largely negative way at first. Changing your diet will cause your stomach to be upset until it adjusts. This is due to the microbes in your intestine adjusting to the new foods. Introducing new foods slowly gives your gut time to adjust and can prevent the stomach from rejecting it straight out. Starting a new workout routine will cause soreness. A hard workout causes micro-tears in the muscle which is why you hurt the next day (and sometimes the day after that). Those micro-tears cause the muscle to heal into stronger tissue, however. Increasing intensity slowly and being sure to take care of your body will make you stronger for a longer period of time without risk of injury.
The changes I’ve made in my life aren’t necessarily dietary: I still eat meat, I enjoy sugar more than I should (sorry John!). But I’ve been trying to work through the chaos that we all have been living through by exercising my freedom to choose how I better myself. I’ve been choosing to be more active and exercising more. I’ve been trying to care for myself by going slow with this and adding in things that I enjoy most like yoga. Yoga is an activity that feels most like freedom to me. It allows me time to breathe outside of everything else and focus on nothing but the moment and the movement. It also allows me to laugh at myself when I fall out of a pose or can’t quite keep a stretch. The freedom to mold a practice to my own ability and needs is the perfect expression of how yoga has allowed me some control over my own life and health.
We are free to help change the world for the better to ensure all men and women of all colors, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs can feel the freedom we all deserve. This 4th of July it’s our responsibility as Americans to contemplate more than we would normally, beyond what side we’re bringing to the potlucks we might not be comfortable hosting this year or where to place the blanket for the fireworks show. We should contemplate the importance of what John Adams and the other founding fathers have given us - good and bad. The personal choices we make and the way we care for ourselves is a gift and we should use it in a way that expresses this freedom.
John Adams was asked to give a toast in 1826 for the 4th of July. He said simply, "Independence forever.” Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s remember this simplicity and the struggle that led there. With a clear view of the past we can hopefully all move forward together.
Brit Fennewald is Joliet resident, a Peter Rubi employee, and history buff. She earned her BA in International Relations from Richmond, the American International University in London. She hopes you’ll all remember dogs with sensitive ears when planning fireworks shows this holiday!