The meaning of the Fourth is losing its spark

The answer is Boston. The question is, “Your favorite Fourth of July?”

The kids were all at home that summer, but it would be one of the last. We’d planned a summer vacation sweeping the upper East Coast, stopping at every spot of historical interest, forcing them to tour sites and read countless plaques and markers about events and people long ago.

They claimed I thought even the roadside litter had historical significance. Carbon date it and we’ll see, kids.

A year later, our son was in college studying architecture and a professor asked for a show of hands as to who had been to this particular site or that particular monumentaround the country. Our son said he raised his hand so many times it was embarrassing. “Mom, did you realize how many of those places we’d been to?”

We’d been to Lexington and Concord the day before the Fourth. We lingered at the North Bridge a long time. It is quiet and serene there, with thick grass, quiet waters and mature trees that dapple the sunlight. It is the very ground where farmers and craftsmen, ordinary citizens, answered the peal of church bells to commence battle for every man’s God-given right to live free.

We walked the Freedom Trail through Boston on the Fourth, the red brick pathway that leads past King’s Chapel, Park Street Chapel, the Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church and Bunker Hill. There are nameplates in the church pews. Many were regular churchgoers, faith being woven into the fabric of life.

Ministers in the pulpit at the time of the Revolution were firebrands. They weren’t preaching about enhancing self-esteem and 15 ways to love yourself more. Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian and Congregationalist ministers, Jesuits and priests preached revolution. Some became military chaplains and others like John Witherspoon served in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

After following the red brick road, we sandwiched ourselves into the Boston Harbor that evening amid a mass of humanity. Fireworks soared into the sky and exploded into magnificent balls of red, white and blue glitter, brilliantly mirrored in the water below.

The crowd oohed and aahed. For a time, we were all fixed on something larger than ourselves, not unlike when the colonists were fixed on a vision for a government where no man would be above the law.

Dwarfed by fireworks arcing and filling the sky, it truly felt like “E pluribus unum,” from many one. It would be one of the last Fourths that felt that way.

Today we don’t often embrace “from many one.” We are becoming fragments, shards and splinters screaming, fighting and clawing to get what is ours. The once broad vision for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has grown myopic focused on self, greed, and what’s trending on Twitter.

That shining city sitting on a hill? The lights are growing dim.

The question today is, “Do we have the grit and vision to refuel the lamps and rekindle the vision?”

I pray we do.