Today, Independence Day, is steeped in being dependent. It’s hardly a contradiction of terms in light of the significant event that marks this day as historic.
On July 4, 1776, individuals from 13 struggling colonies came together as one delegation, acting as one people, declaring independence from one ruler. To understand the magnitude of this momentous event, we must remember that the declaration was both the throwing off of an oppressive ruler and the taking up of mutual dependence. Though we celebrate independence, it is always with the inescapable backdrop of shared dependence. Such dependence reverberates through the words “one people” found in the opening line of the Declaration of Independence.
Being dependent on one another sounds vulnerable, even weak, yet this one people idea gives our nation strength.
My father volunteered to support our nation’s stance against the aggression of one country over another. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, fought side-by-side with his squad. He depended on them for his life and them on him. It was not until I returned home from my first deployment in the Middle East, supporting Enduring Freedom Operations, also as a U.S. Marine, that he tearfully told me of the Marines he fought alongside, the ones who did not come home. Regardless of the realities of war, I don’t think a day went by that he did not think of them. Before my son, also a U.S. Marine, deployed in support of Iraq Freedom, he understood this life reality, being dependent on one another.
The Declaration phrase that receives the most attention – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – might have the unintended consequence of an individual focus. The pursuit of happiness at the expense of others and independent of mutual love, respect and honor cannot be the intent of our forefathers. Their closing words reflected dependence “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The opening sentence of the Declaration points to their aim and foundational beliefs, the closing sentence articulates their path forward.
My family depends on me. My church depends on me. My colleagues and the veteran students depend on me. The realization is, however, I depend on all of them to the fullest. Our work is eased, our laughter is rich, our pain is deep, so much fuller than a life divided, void of any overarching common bond. Today, a day clearly recognized and set aside to celebrate freedom and independence, is equally a great day to celebrate our dependence on one another. Let us celebrate by looking past that which divides in order to seek truth, seek what is self-evident, and seek what makes this nation one people.
Happy (in) Dependence Day!
Robert A. Murphy is USC Aiken’s Veteran and Military Student Affairs Official.