Today is Independence Day.
When I think of independence, I think of my son. He’s fifteen now. Just finished driver’s ed. He’s got a girlfriend. He’s thinking about college. For my son, independence means getting a driver’s license. It means seeing his girlfriend whenever he wants, instead of whenever they can convince their parents to drive them. It means making his own decisions about the future.
At fifteen, you don’t see the interconnection between independence and responsibility quite as clearly as you do at almost 40.
When I think of independence, I think of my grandparents, and how much they all feared losing theirs towards the end of their lives. Long past the point where any of my grandparents stopped fearing death, they still feared being helpless, dependent on others to take care of their basic needs.
At 60 or 70, independence is the difference between living and surviving.
When I think of independence, I think of the babies I take care of in the nursery at church every other Sunday. How they are still very dependent on us grown ups, but how they still assert their independence–their free will–in various ways.
As an infant, independence is the terrifyingly necessary separation from the parents who are your whole universe.
When I think of independence, I think of my husband and my marriage. I think of the twenty year dance of us figuring out how much independence is a necessary and life-giving thing. I think of smacking my head on the unseen boundary of “too much independence” on either his part or mine, or both of us.
In a marriage, independence can mean the difference between growing together, growing apart, or just growing tired of a relationship that isn’t growing.
Independence is a piece of a whole. An important cog in a much bigger machine. Independence is your responsibility to yourself. And it’s vital that you don’t abdicate that responsibility. Locked in dynamic tension with responsibility to others, it becomes the interdependence of community and family.
It’s an American holiday, but I keep thinking about the French national motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. You need all three of those things for a society to work: freedom, a level playing field of rights, and an acknowledgment that it’s love–philos love, brotherly love–that has to surround and pull it all together. During an election year, I wish we could all keep that last one in mind a little more.
Let freedom ring, y’all.