LET FREEDOM RING! July 4th, not the day independence was declared, but the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. A day of trepidation for our forefathers who didn’t know if they would really see a free nation or would end up being hung for treason. A day for celebration for us – freedom, a day off from work, fireworks, John Sousa marches being played by local bands, barbecue and barbecues, politicians making campaign appearances, and family get-togethers. While I will enjoy and participate in all of the above before I go to sleep tonight, for a few early morning hours, July 4th is my quiet time of independence.
I don’t turn on the television or music, but instead take a moment to reflect in solitude staring out my back window. My husband is out walking with a friend before the heat of the day becomes oppressive, but I am vegging. It already is too hot for me to want to leave my air-conditioned room, but I am observing the stillness in my yard. The grass is a little long, but neither it nor the trees are swaying in the absence of any wind. It is a far cry from a few weeks ago when tornadoes devastated homes just a few blocks from our house while our trees bent from the force of the wind, before bouncing back upright.
The quiet makes me think of a cherished memory from my childhood. It is the memory of the first time I ever realized the power that comes from solitude. My family had just moved to Michigan; but dad was away on a business trip. Mother had spent the night shortening curtains by hand so our apartment would seem more finished. As she worked and listened to the radio, she observed snow falling and began to hear school closings, but none mentioned the Jackson schools where she had just enrolled us so I was sent off to the junior high school, a few blocks away.
Snow was falling lightly, but sticking with drifts that made me step carefully as I crossed the road in front of the apartment complex and took the shortcut to school. The shortcut was a paved sidewalk between houses that had been built on multiple lots. It enabled children living in our fairly populated area to independently walk to the elementary and junior high schools without having to cross two busy roads that bordered these houses. I searched for the shortcut path, but no footsteps had marked it for me to distinguish from random sandlike dunes. Everything was silent and white. I had my bearings, but I stopped to look around for a bird, a squirrel, or another child. There were none. I was about to start walking again when I saw a single bird perched on the branch of an evergreen tree. It seemed to notice me at the same time. We stared at each other and then the bird shook itself and flew away. Finally, I forced myself to continue to my closed school. I got home in time to keep my mother from taking my sister to school.
The memory of being cold faded, but the silent beauty of solitude I felt stayed with me. So, on the 4th of July, I am glad to celebrate our country’s independence and to take a few minutes to enjoy my own independence.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s. www.DebraHGoldstein.com