The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park. Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted. Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.
But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us. Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken. I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times. But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.
This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz. He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom. He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy. He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances. I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later. In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on. How? By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult. (Note: I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)
At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this. And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain. And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude. Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom. And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it. From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!