© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
By Bruce Stambaugh
Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.
My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”
The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.
American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.
In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.
A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.
My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.
In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.
This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.
So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.
That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2018
By Bruce Stambaugh
Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.
In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.
I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.
Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.
Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.
The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.
The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.
None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.
As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?
How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2017
By Bruce Stambaugh
I’m grateful to have been born in the United States. I realize that’s an easy statement for me to make given my lineage and geographic life space.
It’s taken me a while to recognize my absolute privilege as a natural born Caucasian American male citizen. Coming of age in the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960s, I should have caught on much earlier.
I couldn’t help but follow the progress of those volatile days. All earned headlines in newspapers, and plenty of airtime on the evening news. Long before the Internet or smartphones, that’s how we kept up to date with ongoing daily events.
There was plenty to absorb. Times were tense. The Cuban missile crisis, persistent protests for civil and equal rights for minorities and women, anti-war protests, urban riots, and assassinations are all indelibly etched in my psyche.
Given today’s political rancor, I’m appalled at the actions and comments of others toward the poor, minorities of every kind, and the down-and-out of today’s global society. It’s like everything is coming undone. I struggle with what to do, what to say, how to act.
My parents instilled in their children a sense of fairness, justice, and equality for all. I think that came from their knowledge of previous generations of hard work, personal experience with injustice, and an absolute desire to ensure their offspring had a better life than they did.
In that, my good folks more than succeeded. They instilled in us a strong work ethic, a desire to serve, the importance of community, and the need to connect with others.
I think my devoted wife can say the same about her upbringing on her family farm. Those core values have been the foundation of our 45 years together, cemented by a love that has survived and evolved through the joys and heartaches that life lays out for each and every one of us.
Unfortunately, others in this diverse nation are not so fortunate, if only because of their race, religion, economic situation, or demographic roots. For a variety of legitimate reasons, they rest uneasily in our society.
I yearn for the day when I can erase those words. In the meantime, I see the anniversary of the independence of our great nation as a reminder to continue to help wherever and whenever I can.
As a thankful American, I see that goal as my continued responsibility. Whether through words or actions or donations or genuinely associating with others beyond my comfort zone, I must do what I can to help within my grasp and power however limited that may be.
I must linger with the poor, the destitute, and the powerless. I must listen to their cries, their calls for justice, and their desire to fulfill their basic needs.
I must learn from those who have so much less than me. They have much to teach me, to help me grow, to help me understand, to help me live.
As Americans on this pinnacle national holiday, we need to linger with one another, listen to one another, and learn from one another. Doing so is for the common good of us all.
Shouldn’t it be the goal for all of us to improve responsibly the country we all love so much? After all, the Pledge of Allegiance ends, “…with liberty and justice for all.” Can’t we all help make it so?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2016
By Bruce Stambaugh
Watching starbursts of fireworks from five miles above the earth was an unexpected treat.
My family and I were flying back from vacation late on July 3, 1988. Our hour-long flight path took us along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Shortly after we were airborne, the sky began to pop with burst after colorful burst of fireworks.
All along the route towns large and small expressed their jubilation for America’s Independence Day holiday with pyrotechnic displays. From high above I imagined the various sparkling bursts reflecting the broad diversity of folks that comprise this great country. Necks craned skyward, people from many cultures, races and religions in urban parks, county fairgrounds or on their own back porches had to also be admiring their local kaleidoscope of explosions.
As the last sparks flickered, I had to wonder then, as I wonder now, if the real meaning behind the celebratory fireworks is fully understood. As they picked up their chairs and folded their blankets to return home, what were they thinking? Was it just another fireworks display or did they truly comprehend the meaning of the day?
Those are questions that needed to be asked then just as they need to be asked today. Remembering our historic roots helps us to focus on where we are now and where it is we need to be going tomorrow.
As we celebrate another Independence Day in the United States, here are a few historical facts that cannot be changed, though some have tried to distort the truth. The Continental Congress actually declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The revolutionary document, penned by Thomas Jefferson, was signed July 4, 1776, making the radical pronouncement official.
At great risk to their fame, fortune and reputations, these bold men, and they were all men, set down the groundwork of a new nation. That foundation was based on one essential notion, freedom.
A few years later that central idea wove its way into the heart of the U.S. Constitution in the form of the first 10 amendments commonly called the Bill of Rights. They itemized specific freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to gather, among others.
The people of the American colonies wanted to shake the hold of Great Britain’s rule and run their own lives. This great document announced a new form of government for all peoples. Without it, anarchy would have ruled.
Since its initial adoption the Constitution of the United States has been amended to appropriately represent rights and freedoms for all of the country’s peoples, regardless of gender, race or creed as the population and society’s mores have evolved. To be sure, that evolution has had its civil rough spots to say the least.
From our present perspective, it can be easy to think that some things always were. “In God We Trust,” for example, was added to our coins and currency in 1864 at the end of the Civil War. The phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954 during the McCarthy communism scare era.
The altitude at which we enjoy the July 4th fireworks isn’t terribly important. The attitude of appreciation and a clear understanding and application of how and why our basic freedoms exist, however, are essential for appropriate social discourse.
As the fireworks explode in honor of this July 4th, what will you revere about Independence Day?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012
By Bruce Stambaugh
There are lots of places I would love to visit in the world. But every Fourth of July, you can find me with my wife at Lakeside, Ohio.
Why do we keep going back? I’ll be a typical man and answer that question with another question. How can we not return?
We find the summer resort a respite from our busy schedule. A random survey of Lakesiders would likely reflect that common answer.
You could argue that respite can be found in plenty of other locales, too. But there is only one Lakeside, and the best way to appreciate it is to visit there.
The quaint town on the shores of Lake Erie mushrooms from 600 year-round residents to 3,000 summer vacationers. Gate fees are required from mid-June through Labor Day weekend.
I could list 100 reasons why we savor Lakeside each summer. But I’ll pare it down to a pertinent few pleasures we experienced during our latest stay.
First and foremost has to be the renewal of relationships with friends, some who we only see at Lakeside. Of course, we stay in touch via email or phone. But we only see most fellow Lakesiders while we are actually at the Chautauqua on Lake Erie
We enjoy where we stay, and we always board at the same hospitality house. We like our hosts and their guests, most of who return the same week annually. We have a lot in common, share food, stories and values.
We cherish the familiarity and ambiance that Lakeside affords. Doughnuts at The Patio Restaurant, ice cream from Coffee and Cream and pizza from Sloopy’s are all part of the Lakeside experience if we so choose
But we value the special surprises that always seem to plop in our laps. We run into friends from home or people we know that we had no idea even knew about Lakeside. It’s always fun to reconnect and discover how each found the resort town.
This year we had an extra special treat. A resident of Lakeside that we got to know through our hosts at Maxwell’s Hospitality House invited my wife and I for a ride on his restored 1968 Lyman inboard motorboat.
With the temperatures and humidity at the wilting stage, we leaped at the opportunity. The wooden boat, originally built in nearby Sandusky, glided through the slightly wavy water with ease. We cruised past Lakeside just beyond the dock.
During out week’s stay, we also took in some of the evening entertainment that comes with the price of admission. Workshops, museums, tours and worship are also available for children through adults
Each morning I stretched my legs by walking the two-mile parameter of the lovely village. Walkers, runners, bikers and dog-walkers alike bid each other a friendly Lakeside hello or a nod
Besides the exercise and human interaction, I got to absorb beautiful gardens, charming restored cottages from Lakeside’s beginning in 1873, watch night hawks glide, stroll along where old trolley tracks once ran and glimpse tennis matches on both asphalt and clay courts.
I enjoyed a personal Lakeside moment, too. I found a lakeside bench under the generous shade from the large stand of old growth trees and watched the ferries shuttle between Marblehead and Kelley’s Island.
In that Norman Rockwell setting, time seemed to simply stand still. That alone is reason enough to treasure our annual Lakeside vacation.