Around noon today, a few hundred people will jump, wade, splash into the Peace River for the annual Freedom Swim — back after a one year hiatus because of the pandemic. There will be swimmers, kayakers, people on floats, dog-paddlers, young and old — free to take on the mile-and-one-half challenge at their own pace and in their own dress (or maybe undress?).
Tonight, the skies over North Port, Englewood, Venice and Punta Gorda will explode in greens, pinks and plumes of smoke as fireworks shows put an exclamation point on our Fourth of July celebration.
All the while, people will gather in backyards and fire up the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers. Others will anxiously await sundown so they can ramp up their own personal fireworks shows — much to the chagrin of neighbors and wailing dogs.
It’s appropo that in Punta Gorda, the fireworks will light up the Vietnam Memorial Wall of Southwest Florida. That’s where, of course, the names of 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War are etched on black. They gave up their lives with the idea they were fighting for freedom — if not ours then certainly freedom for the people of South Vietnam.
We use that word “freedom” to cover a lot of bases.
We have freedom of speech guaranteed in our constitution.
We have freedom to assemble. That will be on display all weekend at various Fourth of July functions and parties.
We have the right to buy and shoot off fireworks — a new freedom in Florida thanks to the governor and our Legislature.
And while we have more freedom than the great majority of nations on this earth, it seems every day those freedoms and rights under the constitution are under fire and challenged. Yet we endure.
We have survived world wars, corruption at the highest levels of government, assassinations of presidents and candidates. Our history is not without blemish — from the stealing of land from Native Americans to slavery.
We are far from perfect. The harsh words exchanged in our nation’s Congress and on the steps and in the hallways of its Capitol remind us of that. The sometimes hateful rhetoric exchanged between those of different political parties and different views has ascended to a crescendo that is not only uncalled for and unneeded, but has become a threat to our fragile republic.
Yet the experiment we launched more than 200 years ago has carried us through those trials and tribulations. We stand today as the greatest nation on earth, regardless of our warts and shortcomings.
All of us should celebrate our freedoms today. We should stand shoulder to shoulder, possibly with strangers whose political affiliation is unknown to us, and wallow in the pride that we’re all Americans and we love our country, even if we have different opinions about how to continue to be a beacon for those who envy the United States of America.
There is, and probably never will be, a better example of a nation rising up against tyranny and building a government that strives — against great odds and historical roadblocks — to represent all its people fairly and equally.
Let’s celebrate America today.