My Lessons of July 4, 2019


Today is the 243rd anniversary of this great American experiment we call democracy, but I was having a hard time getting into a celebratory mood this year.  I was not happy with the state of our union.

I have been disturbed by how our current President is disrupting the lives and the traditions of the people in my hometown, Washington DC, in what my interpretation says is making this holiday about him instead of about our shared history and values.  I’m concerned that, according to my hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, the President is diverting $2.5 million from fixing national parks to pay for his requirements ABOVE the usually-budgeted funds for this event…and that is not the full extent of his additional expenses.  It feels wrong to me to be spending that money, if not on what it was originally supposed to pay for, but on a one-day spectacular, when we are hearing stories of facilities in American for asylum seekers forcing children to sleep on the floor and not shower or brush their teeth for days and women who have been separated from their children being advised to drink water from the toilet.  I just don’t like what that says about our national priorities.

Fortunately, something arrived in my email inbox that lifted my spirits.  It was a video about….


Yes, I know, that is an incredibly geeky thing to love, even among educators.  But I do love sentence diagramming.  I love to see our complex thoughts, translated into the slippery English tongue, needly ordered on paper, revealing the structure behind our thinking.

This video, however, was not just your ordinary sentence diagramming video.  It was a special HOLIDAY sentence diagramming.  It was, in fact, unpacking the structure of the first sentence in the Declaration of Independence—the very document we are celebrating today.

I can still quote that sentence from memory, since I grew up in the olden days when we would actually memorize such things:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them4th  with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Here is how Elizabeth O’Brien, creator of the Grammar Revolution website ( , which I highly recommend as an excellent place to learn about sentence diagramming, breaks down that sentence:

DecIndy sent diagram

Copyright © 2009-2019 Grammar Revolution.  All Rights Reserved.

She marks it up according to parts as speech here:
DecIndy sen diagram marked

Copyright © 2009-2019 Grammar Revolution.  All Rights Reserved.

(If you don’t know what those are parts of grammar are, you can visit Grammar Revolution and download O’Brien’s FREE resource, The Beginner’s Guide to Grammar, at )

And here is her full video explaining her diagramming:

Copyright © 2009-2019 Grammar Revolution.  All Rights Reserved.

The point is, besides brushing up on grammar, that this reminds me that the principles that founded this nation came from complex ideas.  However, too much of our political communication these days comes down to slogans:

  • Make American Great Again
  • Never Trump
  • Build the Wall
  • Dump Trump
  • Fake News
  • Medicare for All

I’m not picking on these particular phrases.  All of them deal with complicated ideas that can’t be reduced to a few words.  Like, Make America Great Again?  Who said it stopped being Great?  If so, when and why?  How do we define American Greatness?  The phrase has a kernel of value that could spark interesting conversation.  Somehow, though, in these days of Twitter and 24-hour news cycles and micro-attention spans, we just get the slogans and never get around to the serious discussions.

That’s what we need to do more of.  We need to talk, not tweet.  

The complexity of that first sentence also mirrored the complexity of the issues our Founding Fathers were juggling at that time.  In 1776, there were DEEP, DEEP divisions in the country, even greater than ours are today.  A large percentage of the  people were not in favor of being a separate country at all.  Some wanted to be a separate country, but were suspicious about this concept of “democracy.”  Some wanted a strong federal governing unit; some thought the states should all be independent and the country would just be a loose alliance of sovereign states.  Some opposed slavery and some depended upon it.  Some thought representation should be based on population; some thought each state should be equal, regardless of size or number of inhabitants.

I could go on and on.  But this sentence diagramming example led me to remember that we’ve had radical differences in the past, but have been able to work our way beyond them.  So that gives me hope.

Then, during my meditation walk, I found three feathers that made me think of our national colors—red, white, and blue.  At the time, the founders took the heraldic meanings in using those colors (although, to be honest, they probably just took the colors from the flag of the country from which they wanted to separate, making the whole thing seem less radical and more familiar.  The Founding Fathers—they’re just like us!)

Anyway, at the time, Charles Thompson, Secretary to the Congress, reporting on the colors of the Great Seal of the United States, wrote that “The colors are those used in the flag of the United States of America. White signifies purity and innocence. Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue… signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”

So, purity, courage and pushing through hard challenges, and care, persistence, and treating everyone fairly—still qualities that can serve us today in overcoming our national divide.

Then there is also the other symbolism in our flag—the stars and stripes.  The House of Representatives’ 1977 book about the flag explains those in this way : “The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”

There are lots of ways to interpret those meanings.  To me, however, what stuck out was that the stars represent night and the stripes represent day.  And that’s how life really is, isn’t it?  It’s a mixture of light and dark.  The funny part is that what I think of as the dark, people of other political persuasions see as the light—and vice versa.  But that is the nature of our world.  As I write this, it is daylight in the US, but it is nighttime for much of Asia and Australia and such.

The message, I think, is that if I want to heal this country, I need to embrace what I see as darkness, and let them embrace me.  We can still have different interpretations of each other; what is important is that we claim our unity over our differences.

So this is my current thinking:

President Trump has had tank envy ever since he attended the French Bastille Day celebrations with President Macron two years ago.  So maybe let him have his military parade.  I don’t like it, but maybe other Americans will.  Maybe if President Trump finally gets his tanks, he will be in a better mood and be more willing to do something about the deplorable conditions in the asylum camps.  

Maybe.  Stranger things have happened.

Whatever, it’s not worth ruining my day and my celebration of the greatness of this country.  That won’t help anything; it will just bring me and everyone around me and ultimately my country down.  I think that is the best way I can serve national unity on this day of celebrating this great American experiment.

I just got a political email that said “Let’s get free.”  I agree with the political goals of that organization.  But in this day, at this moment, I need to free myself of my negative judgements about other Americans.  Instead, let me try to love my fellow Americans unconditionally, regardless of our beliefs.  Maybe that will encourage them to love me back.  If not, at least I am experiencing love instead of anger, judgement, resentment, and those kinds of emotions that bring me down.

I think that is the best way I can serve national unity on this day of celebrating this great American experiment.


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