Let freedom ring

The 4th of July isn’t just for sparklers, barbecues, and parades: it is a time to celebrate our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, now known as the United Kingdom, in 1776. To the credit of our forefathers, we do not have a Queen ruling our country, nor do we call our children “cheeky” when they do not behave, nor do we observe ‘high tea’ (when one has tea at 6 p.m.). The 4th is a time for reflecting on all of the freedoms that we know, love, and enjoy on a daily basis.

After several discussions, I am still trying to explain that it is the ‘Declaration of Independence,’ not the “decoration” of Independence, to my five year old son. He doesn’t understand exactly what it means to be an American, but he does know we have a President, he knows our military protects us and is ready and willing to defend our rights, and he knows the pledge of allegiance. As my son and I continue to talk about what “Independence Day” really means, it has made me think How does one teach patriotism?

Each year, our school participates in a Veteran’s Day Ceremony for the local community and student body. It allows the students to be positively connected to the community, to showcase the dedication of our veterans and honestly, it has a function that I think a lot of people overlook but is incredibly important – it makes the students feel like they are a part of their community. For years, I have observed these students during this ceremony – they sit quietly, listen and are respectful. Time and time again I have watched, as the students file back to their classroom, and our guests and veterans leave our school, students stop those vets in our hallways and thank them for serving our country.

It melts my heart.

I come from a long line of military pride – both of my grandfathers were in the military, and my Dad was a Marine. I have a very high respect for our service men and women. Just this past year – I can still picture it in my head – watching this blue jean clad middle schooler stopping a veteran in the hallway, holding out his hand, and saying with a bright, genuine smile, “Thank you for serving our country, sir.” It was moving. I caught that glassy-eyed look from that veteran; he was stunned and so proud. He heartily shook that boy’s hand. They both had huge smiles on their faces. I don’t think I will ever forget it.

After a lot of thought, I don’t feel that patriotism is something that is taught. I feel that patriotism is something that we model. Proudly fly your flag. Be respectful during the National Anthem. Stand up for what you believe in. Be thankful for the rights you enjoy on a daily basis. Explain those things to your children.

Throughout the last 238-plus years in our country’s history, millions of men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives for the things we know and love in our country. You want to own a fire arm? Thank a Marine. You want to voice your unhappiness with your president? Thank a sailor in the Navy. You want to practice Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc? Thank a soldier in the Army. Do you enjoy your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Thank an airman in the Air Force. Do you enjoy, especially in our state, safe waters? Thank a coastie in the Coast Guard.

So for the five-year-old, I may table the idea of explaining the “decoration of Independence” and stick with being proud to be an American that flies her flag each day outside her home, and says thank you to those in the military. Don’t get me wrong – we will still happily enjoy the parades, the candy, and the sparklers. But we will also enjoy the many freedoms we have been gifted through the losses of our service men and women. THANK YOU to all of you that have served our country in any capacity. Your dedication and service are admirable.

And to be quite honest, I am kind of digging the word “cheeky,” so I’ll embrace my freedom of speech and steal it, and put it to good use. Enjoy your 4th of July and stay safe. Be blissful!

Editor’s note: Heather Heinz teaches English at Lake Linden MS/HS.