Independence Day 2019 got me thinking. Usually such cerebral cogitations lead to a nap, but in this case I remained conscious while having deep thoughts long enough to jot them down.
I got to thinking about the original 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, and what crossed their minds moments before scratching their names on Jefferson’s radical writing. Surely they had an inkling (no pun intended) they were about to change the world. What vision! What hubris!
How much easier had they accepted the status quo, let the British do their taxation-without-representation thing. What would it hurt—besides their dignity and national identity?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident” committed each signer to support the new nation in its quest for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
My favorite part, the grievances against the Crown, reads like a little brother’s rant against an intolerant, bullying big brother. “I’m not gonna take it anymore!” the Fifty-sixers scream better than Twisted Sister.
Which brings me to my point. Shouldn’t we Americans each July 4th apply those original radical, nonconformist ideas to our own lives? Like a New Year’s resolution, shouldn’t we ask how we can, in our own small ways, be like those who changed the world? Take a stand on a principle that will benefit humankind?
Climate change, for instance. Unless you disbelieve science from Eureka!’s Archimedes to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, by now you must be recycling plastic, accelerating slowly and hiding fetus-like in your basement bathtub waiting for the next hurricane, tornado, flood or drought to pass by.
I’m not saying you have to turn off lights when you leave a room, like my mother harassed us into doing when kids. “Rich...ard,” I hear her voice go up an octave from first to second syllable, “I’ll thank you, young man, to please turn off the lights.”
You can, however, object when talking to a denier, someone who thinks the disasters of climate change will work themselves out. Because they won’t. They haven’t. Desertification not only moves vast populations of refugees into countries that can’t afford the influx, but also incites violence over water availability.
Not to mention the extinction of species. According to the website Vox (5/7/19), the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services “finds that species of all kinds — mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, plants, marine life, terrestrial life — are disappearing at a rate ‘tens to hundreds times higher than the average over the last 10 million years’ due to human activity....1 million species are now at risk of extinction if we don’t act to save them.”
Too much to handle, much less imagine? Start smaller. Declare independence from your smart phone. Stephanie Merry, Washington Post’s Book World editor, writes, “According to...Barnes & Noble, 80 percent of reading adults plan to put down their pesky devices for at least 30 minutes this summer and give their attention over to a book. My first thought was: Only 30 minutes? But in our tech-obsessed culture, every little bit counts, I suppose” (6/21/19).
Yes, I suppose.
My favorite way to declare independence from car key, phone, TV and emails? Go fishing. Yup, throw on my fly fishing vest, grab a net, and strike out for where trout rise for a hook smaller than my fingernail—but hairier. There, beneath quaking aspen, water birch, and tamarack pine, I perform the revolutionary act of not caring about anything but a longer, smoother cast. I’ve declared independence from stress.
Until the phone in my pocket vibrates.
• Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches at Marmion Academy, and facilitates Geneva library’s writing workshop. A collection of his columns, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” is forthcoming. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.