Friday, July 03, 2009

The last word, which was 'honor'

In the summer of 1992, my wife and I were not yet married but living together in a cabin on the banks of the Delaware River. Each morning, we walked a mile or so on a dirt road to the town of Cochecton, N.Y., to buy a copy of The New York Times. The morning of July 4th was no different. Except that day the Times dedicated a full page to a reprint of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was not an advertising gimmick, not sponsored, nor did it even boast “brought to you by The New York Times.” It was the Declaration with no trappings. That afternoon, sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of the cabin, Sheri and I read the Declaration out loud. We took turns, a few paragraphs for her, a few for me..

“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 …”

“… He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. …”

“… these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States …”

And by the last word, which was “honor,” we were changed.

On every Independence Day since, we’ve read the Declaration out loud. Sometimes it has just been the two of us. Often it is with friends after a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon.

If you take a moment between the grilling and the fireworks to read the Declaration aloud, particularly if you read it with friends, I hope you will note the vivacity of the prose, the incisiveness of the reasoning, the passion and certainty and confidence of the spirit. Moreover, recognize that you are reading one of the first documents of a people struggling to find a new way of living that moves beyond monarchy and respects the rights of the individual. It is not perfect – its description of American’s Native peoples is shameful, and we must never forget that while declaring independence because all men were equal, some of the signatories owned slaves. Nevertheless, given the standards of the time, the fact of the document is a marvel. Add its evident power and literary grace, and it is no wonder it has become a kind of secular scripture, our Genesis.

You’ll find your own copy to read here.

1 comment:

tamara said...

Thanks for the reminder. It's amazing how much more remarkable it is, reading it now with some life experience, versus as a 16 yo junior in high school History class.