This Fourth of July is different from others. Normally it is a festive occasion for family and friends to gather. We celebrate what it means to be an American, which is the deliberately vague idea that it means being and doing whatever we want.
This year, we face an existential crisis calling everything into question, including this vague premise of what it means to be an American. The dream of being and doing whatever we want is not working out. Everyone is fighting everyone else. Those misfortunes that used to happen to others are now happening to us.
Thus, perhaps it is not the case to celebrate this year as we once did. We can still get together and socialize. However, this Fourth of July, we do better to ponder.
A Time to Ponder
Pondering does not come naturally to our culture. We are a people given to optimistic exuberance in the pursuit of happiness. The frenetic intemperance of our economic progress incites us to desire everything, instantly and effortlessly. Our hectic schedules conspire against silence and deep thinking.
Worse yet, pondering insinuates problems, even tragedy. Tragic perspectives offend our Hollywoodian instincts that say everything has to turn out well in the end.
Things are not well in America, and that is why we should ponder our situation. Tragedy is on the horizon. It makes no sense to be in denial of something that is now so obvious.
We must ponder this July 4. If we lazily push this reflection off to next year, it may be too late.
Churning Things Over in Our Minds
Pondering does not mean planning, managing or engineering solutions. Such steps involve more deliberative thinking. We have not yet reached that point of thought development where we have a clear path to go, and we can think out concrete solutions.
It is time to stop and ponder. We need to churn things over in our minds to see what has gone wrong. It means asking the right questions even if the answers are not immediately forthcoming. Pondering involves soul-searching. It can lead to changes deep within us. It can be a long and painful process of examination to detect our shortcomings.
Questioning Who We Are
Thus, the first object of our pondering this Fourth of July might be who we are. We are taught that the pursuit of happiness consists of being and doing whatever we want. What began as a pursuit of legitimate self-interest became a culture of constant self-gratification.
However, this self-gratification has now degenerated into the realm of fantasy where individuals seek out choices and passions that deny reality, commonsense and restraint. We desire to become that which we can never be (or self-identify as). We want to do that which will destroy society and self.
We have evolved from a nation that once valued honor, duty and community to a meeting place representing a clash of individual wills, each with an exaggerated notion of self.
Thus, we must stop and ponder. We should question this vague notion of being and doing whatever we want as an absolute source of happiness. We might find greater purposes for our lives that far outshine following our whims and delusions. Indeed, it is time to rethink the idolization of the individual as the supreme expression of what it means to live.
A second object of our pondering might be the frustrations of failing to be and do whatever we want. Our desires and fantasies are often divorced from reality and prove illusive. Thus, amid great material prosperity, a spirit of unhappiness and depression haunts our postmodernity, raising existential questions that are usually avoided.
Indeed, our society teaches us to flee from sacrifice and suffering. Our culture infuses the notion that we must be happy in all aspects of our lives. Facing hardships, many feel resentment and bitterness at their fate. Now, as misfortune visits America, we might ponder about how to face it, perhaps even to embrace it.
Thus, we might ponder our past to see where we went wrong by insisting upon a life without suffering. Times of adversity have always brought out the best in Americans. They have served to unify families, build character and forge a national identity. Perhaps we might learn from our troubles this Fourth of July, and become better Americans.
Thinking Beyond Self
There is a final matter to ponder that catapults us beyond our obsession for being and doing whatever we want. It affects a cross-section of the population. These Americans see the emptiness and triviality of our consumer society and its quest for pleasures. They desire something more; something that satisfies the yearnings of their souls in a contrary direction.
What compels them to think in these terms is a vague acknowledgment of God’s blessings, devotion to family and love of the nation. They begin to see that there is something higher beyond self. Perhaps there is a meaning and purpose for life beyond just the pursuit of material happiness. And maybe it is linked to God and His Providence.
Such vague formulations do not have sufficient definition to bring about the needed transformation in society. However, in times of crisis like our own, thoughts like these have a chance to appear. As our success and prosperity slowly end, they can provide us with the material to ponder.
This Fourth of July, let us observe the holiday by pondering these points about our uncertain future.