The Hope MixTape: Side A, Track 1. “Here Comes The Sun”

Earlier this year, I asked a few friends on Facebook what songs bring them hope. The response was overwhelming, and the suggestions they provided allowed me to make a 90-minute audio cassette mixtape, complete with a side A and a side B. Just as I have my characters in Fossil Five explore the process involved in making a mixtape, I enjoyed the process of breaking out the calculator to make build both sides with as little empty tape as possible.

After I completed the mixtape, I decided that it would be a good frame for me to write an essay for each song, and focus on the hope that these tunes provide. This is the first in a series of essays inspired by the songs that all of you helped me create.

Here’s to you, and to all of us, in the hope we provide, and receive, along our journeys.

 

The Hope MixTape: Side A, Track 1. “Here Comes The Sun” by The Beatles. Essay #1

All photos were taken by me. Please provide credit to me and this page if you use them elsewhere.

I’ve always been fascinated by sunrises, and most of my better photo shoots have come at the expense of a rising sun – usually on a mountain top or on the water’s edge. This goes way back to my early childhood where, in late days in July, my dad and I would leave the house at 3 a.m. and head to Wye Mills on the Eastern Shore, where we would rent a rowboat from Shnaitman’s Boat House to spend the early hours crabbing on the Wye River. We’d have the boat on the water by 5 a.m., a good hour before the sun actually broke the horizon. I remember clearly the reverent pause in our crabbing when sunrise was imminent. The taut hand lines that had blue crabs tugging at the fresh bait could wait a minute or two as we watched in silence the first line of light find its way over the water. When it crested, we returned to our work without a word, checking the lines and manning the nets as we culled our first dozen from the brackish waters of the Wye.

Years later, when I was in college, my friend Trina and I would take midnight road trips to the beach, watching the sun rise as we walked the foam line of the incoming or outgoing tide. With film camera in hand, I did my best to capture the moment when the sun broke the horizon line. Some of the pictures silhouetted Trina against the wet, fluid brushstrokes of crimson, violet, and gold. We were tired in those pre-dawn moments, but with the rising sun, we felt renewed, energized by the light filling the sky, and us.

As we got older and established our own families, our overnight trips turned to pre-sunrise walks on New Year’s Day. Our last jaunt, 2014, was to the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre De Grace to see the sun rise over the upper tip of Chesapeake Bay in northeast Maryland. This time, the camera I held was a nifty digital Nikon, but the result was the same: magnificent hues with Trina silhouetted against the pre-dawn light.

Throughout my life, I have hiked mountains just to get a glimpse of the sun before anyone else. The elevation gave me the edge over the rest of the world, and I would be afforded a few extra minutes to cherish and receive the energy of the day’s new light, virgin rays of life and Chi that few others would receive. For days – maybe years – I would carry that energy deep within me. Even now, I can tap into these very precious moments and feel a new life coursing through my veins as if the rising sun were my blood, my oxygen to live fully another day.

My most recent trip was in 2015, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail in western North Carolina to watch the sun rise atop Big Bald Mountain. The pictures I got were breathtaking, but the personal experience of being there, as witness to the rising, was in itself unforgettable, caught between the full moon setting in the west and the great sun rising in the east. I was in the center of the universe. I ended up writing a longer essay (“14 Hours In Light“) that I published here on my site in a series of smaller reflections. The experience renewed my hope at a time when I was struggling mightily.

It was there that I realized the energy I had in front of me was afforded to all of us each and every day, regardless of where where we stand when that great sun makes its first appearance of the day. The light in our lives promises us just that – and it is indiscriminate, abundant, fulfilling. The sun’s energy and hope, its comfort and warmth, are boundless, unending, and open for all.

And so it is: A new day begins. For indeed, here comes the sun.

Seek hope in light – it is always there waiting to be received… by you, for you. in all ways. There is no greater way to drive out darkness. In patience, we shall always be recipients of the energy that provides hope.

 

Are Local Stories Being Overshadowed by National Spectacles and Scandals?

I cannot remember the last time I tuned in to my local radio stations. It used to be an every-day thing, surfing through AM and FM channels that carried a multitude of stories and opinions of the people and places right in my own community. All that has changed, however, in the constant drama swirling around the three branches of government.

Regardless of which side you align with, it is both polarizing and paralyzing. The news breaks faster than it can be covered, and many of us are afraid to turn away in fear of missing the latest remark or revelation.

If we do choose to somehow turn away, it’s not to our local news. Instead, we’re binge-watching our favorite TV shows to numb the outrage and frustration, or we’re listening to music that carries us away to simpler times, or transcends us to calmer ways.

As a result, our local news suffers. I used to be a news junkie for Baltimore (hence the title of this site as “The Baltimore Writer,” but now I find it hard to dig deeper into the essential stories that are changing lives around us in the state of Maryland. We’re neglecting the people who are making a difference for others, and we’re not staying tapped into the deeper stories of the local scandals and attacks that we must be mindful of.

We need to strike a stronger balance in the time we spend between the local and national stories. I can contribute to this effort by using this space here to share more of those local stories.

We must be encouraged to stay rooted in our local news, our community contributors, and our regional matters that most directly affect us. While the hourly drama coming out of the congress and the white house might be engaging and, in the darkest sense, entertaining, we must not neglect the news of our neighbors.

I’m going to dig deeper right here in Baltimore to find the stories of the people making a real difference and present them to you here.

Should I begin with you? Drop me a note at rus.vanwestervelt@gmail.com. Let me know what you are doing (or somebody else) to make Baltimore a better place for all….

Here’s to a good day embracing your local communities…. Rus

No Big Deal

15 January 2020

Hi.

Once again, it’s been awhile. I know, I know. I come back every now and then, posting some grandiose statement about my intentions or about the meaning of life. I then share it on my social media feeds and wait to see if anybody’s reading my stuff.

As Carly Simon sings: Anticipation…..

I’m embarrassed by my vanity.

Anyway, I was looking through my entries from years ago (I think I wrote this very line in a previous post lamenting about my lack of posting), and I realized (for the first time? Second? Fifteenth?) that I really cut my teeth on writing here in my earlier years of writing and publishing. I took some risks, sharpened my voice, and – maybe most importantly – showed up rather regularly to establish a steady writing routine.

It’s time to return to those roots, with a few changes.

Before I get to those, though, I want to talk a little about the importance of returning to the raw essence of self. I wrote a whole book about this (Fossil Five, if you haven’t read it yet), and still I find myself lured to pleasing the masses so desperately, even if in subtle ways. Don’t get me wrong- my words are authentic and genuine, but I daresay I refresh my feeds a little too much to see how those words are being received.

I think many of us are in this together, but I also think there are more than a few of you out there who do a much better job than most in keeping the ego in a jar by the door as you live your life without wondering what the world thinks of you.

I aspire to Simplify, Simplify, Simplify and follow the words of Thoreau, to live life a little more intentionally and simply, without all of the fanfare of updates, likes, and emojis.

Intended story of my life.

But that’s okay. I keep coming back to it, like the Narrator in Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, who returns periodically to the Hempstock Farm for reasons he cannot remember (and for good reason, but I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have it next on your list after you finish Fossil Five, <wink><wink>). It’s like anything else, really. You know where the center is, and you know it’s really good to be very close to it, but you stray anyway. Life carries you here and there, until you remember that there’s something important waiting for you back there. So you go. You return. And you discover all over again why the center is good.

I guess the key for me (and for all of us, if we’re to be honest) is to figure out how to stay there once we’ve returned.

*sigh*

Back to those changes I mentioned a few words ago.

In the time of the origins of the core of who I am, way back there when The Grateful Dead were hitting their ’70’s stride, and Zeppelin, Styx, and Foreigner were paving their own paths, I wasn’t writing for social media or likes. I was just grinding out poetry and prose that sounded good to me. I didn’t really care what others thought.

And that, my friends, is how you develop an authentic voice.

I think that, by not writing here like I used to in the “old” days, I’ve lost some of that primal writing. You get rusty when you’re not in practice for the right reasons. You get rusty when you write more for the pleasure of others (and likes, and emojis) than you do when you are writing more authentically for yourself.

It’s the difference in having you over for Christmas dinner (do you like how my crystal shines?) and keeping the door open for you to stop by whenever is good for you (don’t mind my dirty socks there under the couch…).

That’s the way I’ll be here. And no tags, no categories, no big pushes to other platforms. It’s nothing but me as you see me from here on out.

So I’m going to do my best in being “just only me” and leaving the door open for you to pop your head in every now and then. I’m not going to post to the social circles that I’ve pub’d another piece here; if you find me, stay awhile.

Otherwise, I’ll see you when I see you. No big deal.

Peace!

Thanksgiving: Remembering the Past, Embracing the Present

Like most of you, I have Thanksgiving memories rooted in tradition with my family. We watched football games, snuck chocolate turkeys that were meant for after the big meal, and grazed on handfuls of nuts and crackers until the full feast was finally served in the very late afternoon hours in a too-warm dining room.

As a kid, I was indoctrinated with Thanksgiving symbols of “Indians” and pilgrims through arts and crafts, many of which made their way to the white Frigidaire in the kitchen. We didn’t think much beyond the myths back then; we just went through the motions because, well, that’s what most of us did in America.

As I grew older, I realized that those iconic images of a family Thanksgiving immortalized by the idealistic artist Norman Rockwell and the stories we read in elementary school were hardly representative of the truths endured by our ancestors and early English settlers.

The traditions of “Thanksgiving” actually predate American colonies and served the Spaniards and the French as early as the 15th century. The celebrations were exactly as you might think: a time to be thankful for good crops and good health. We, as an American nation, spent centuries after Columbus so heroically sailed the ocean blue in 1492 (yes, I am rolling my eyes) trying to capture the “soul” of Thanksgiving’s origins to a 1621 gathering in Plymouth, where settlers celebrated their survival from a devastating winter and their first bountiful harvest later that year.

The trouble with that famous 3-day feast, however, is that it was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts while a most vicious and deadly battle with the Native Americans raged on in Virginia.

The origins of our relations with Native Americans could have turned out so differently. According to Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, “The Indians, Columbus reported in 1492, ‘…are so naive and so free with their possessions. . . .When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

These are the traits we so desperately wish upon ourselves, even now in the 21st Century.

Three years later, in 1495, Columbus had taken full advantage of this generosity and enslaved the Native Americans to find gold for him in Haiti. “When they brought [the gold],” Zinn writes, “they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. . . .In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. . . .By the year 1515, there were perhaps 50,000 Indians left. By 1550, there were 500.”

Then, at the turn of the 17th Century, in the very early years of English settlements in Virginia, tensions heightened between the Native Americans and early settlers.

In 1607, Chief Powhaten addressed a plea to John Smith that, according to Zinn, was of the following sentiment:

“I have seen two generations of my people die. . . .I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. I am now grown old, and must die soon; my authority must descend to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opechancanough and Catatough, then to my two sisters, and then to my two daughters. I wish them to know as much as I do, and that your love to them may be like mine to you. Why will you take by force what you have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat or sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out, “Here comes Captain Smith!” So I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.”

In 1620, following smaller back-and-forth attacks against each other in Virginia while peaceful relations continued in Plymouth, the Native Americans, anxious about the number of increasing English settlements, decided to go on the offensive and massacred 347 men, women, and children. This led to a full-on war between the two groups and eventual domination by the English settlers.

This is why the Thanksgiving images of that 1621 feast are so unsettling to me now. It’s an image of what should have been for both groups from the very beginning throughout the colonial settlements.

It wasn’t until 321 years later and following a series of proclamations that our US Congress passed a resolution in October 1941 recognizing the fourth Thursday in November to be a federal holiday celebrating Thanksgiving.

And here we are today.

For years, I have struggled with the discrepancies of this holiday stemming from some of the more general myths that we perpetuated in the second half of the 20th century. But to dwell too much on our past is, I think, a missed opportunity for us to return to the origins of being thankful long before our ancestors battled with the Native Americans and stole their land.

Let us embrace this holiday for its origins rooted in real gratitude and humble thanks for our most basic blessings: food, life, and community. Today, we are offered the chance to share this land with a beautiful and diverse population that comprises a society built on compassion, kindness, and love. Give to your neighbors, lift love and prayer for those in need, and be grateful for those who have lifted their own love to you.

In these times of tension and division within our own nation, let us make the choice to put all of that behind us and embrace the opportunities of our present to love one another more humbly, unconditionally, and for many months after the holidays come to an end for this solitary year.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. May your hours spent with loved ones be genuine, heartfelt, and long-lasting.

The Fragile Balance between Writing and Publishing

For writers, the balance between writing and publishing is a fickle act where mind games play as big a role as anything else.

For me, I just published my largest work to date, Fossil Five, a 436-page novel that was crafted over a period of 5 years and 10 months. I should be on top of the world with delight, and to a large extent – I am.

But I took a detour this morning to the bottom of my blog, which I started in 2005, nearly a full year before the social media site Facebook went public in late September 2006. In my earliest entries, and leading up to when I started working on my book in 2013, my published posts evolved into rather authentic pieces that engaged a small but consistent group of readers.

After that, my entries fell flat and were sporadic at best. My energies had flowed to a different kind of writing: the novel. It’s not that I really regret any of it; what I have done, however, is recognize a greater need for balance in my writing life. I’m happy that my novel is out, but I’m unhappy that my online writing suffered as a result.

I’ve been publishing elsewhere recently, so it’s not like I have been slacking in that area. And my daybooking has flourished in recent years. So why am I so upset about the lack of blogging I’ve been doing?

Excellent question.

The better we get at this thing called writing, the better we should get at adding – not replacing – the venues where we share our work, and how, and with whom. If we were gymnasts, would it be okay if we swapped out a forward walkover when we mastered the back handspring? Of course not. We improve as athletes, or writers, when we learn how to add skills and opportunities to be better at what we do.

We can not replace one for the other, especially now when the demands are greater than ever to publish as frequently as possible for an ever-craving readership that demands fresh material be in the wings and ready to be consumed as soon as the work du jour is completed.

I don’t think it’s being too harsh on ourselves, either. We need to be able to balance the writing we do behind the scenes with what we publish, and we need to do more – not less – of both.

Yes, there is a certain urgency as we get older to leave a trace, to share what we know and don’t know, to ponder what we have and have not experienced, and to offer a perspective of what we have learned, and what we still need to learn.

I am reminded of the grandfather in Jonathan Safran Foer’s postmodern novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, where he is so afraid of not being able to say everything in a letter. The author illustrates this tragically by having the words and letters bunch up at the bottom of the page.

Turn the page, and the chapter ends in an all-black burial of urgent and unintelligible lines shared too late.

Simply put, he ran out of time.

We must strive harder to write and publish more, to strike a stronger balance between the two, so we are not so urgent to say what needs to be said, when we run out of space on the very mortal and terminal place at the end of our chapter.

Once Upon A Time: Remembering Helen Kubik

Many of us, when we approached the age of reading for ourselves, selected books that offered larger-than-life stories with fairy-tale endings to somehow make our lives a little more fantastic. For those of us who went to Pine Grove Elementary in the 1970s, we lived that fantastic fairy tale, with open-space classrooms, a large reading area, energetic and life-inspiring teachers, and Helen Kubik, a principal as beautiful and as magical as Glynda, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz.

Mrs. Kubik – known to us in our earlier years at Pine Grove as Ms. Powell before she married Mr. Alex Kubik, an assistant principal at the school – was known for her effervescent personality, matched exquisitely by the L’Origan by Coty perfume she wore each day. Her voice was soothing, supportive, and always accompanied by a glistening smile. She towered over us as young learners, and we all looked up to her in innumerable ways.

I was six when my first-grade teacher, Ms. O’Donnell, appreciated an “essay” I had written about Abraham Lincoln. I was given the chance to share my writing with the rest of my peers at Pine Grove over the PA system during a week-long celebration of our presidents. I remember vividly standing in the office, gripping my essay with both hands, as Mrs. Kubik held the heavy, silver microphone just above me.

I looked up to her as she spoke. “Boys and Girls,” she said into the microphone with that sweet, sing-song voice. “We have some special students who are going to be sharing their own writing about our presidents to celebrate Presidents’ Day.”

She introduced us, and then she lowered the microphone to my level. She gave me a nod, and I inhaled the strong scent of her L’Origan, a fruity bouquet that smelled different than any of the perfumes my mother wore.

It was a scent that represented a presence of compassion, support, and safety. Around Mrs. Kubik, we didn’t feel intimidated; we felt invincible.

I started reading my essay, and when I got to the part of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, I called her Abraham’s “beloved.” Ms. Kubik chuckled, and when I looked up, she was beaming with what I presumed was approval, and so I continued reading. When I finished, she looked at me with those eyes sparkling with hope and belief, and spent some time talking with me about how much she liked that part of my tribute to our 16th president of the United States.

And now, nearly 50 years later, I sit here realizing how much of who I am is because of this woman, the leader of my elementary school where so many other teachers from that era served as role models to me and thousands of impressionable children in the 1970s.

Helen Kubik was everywhere: in our classrooms, at our school events and plays, and in the hallways ready to offer a smile, especially to those who needed it the most. To me, as an emotional, yet happy-go-lucky kid who struggled academically but beamed on stage, she always put each one of her children first as the individuals they were, and not the statistical numbers they might add up to be for any data sheet defining success or failure in the classroom. At least that’s the way it always seemed to me.

Mrs. Kubik was a loving, compassionate individual who, above everything else, saw us as tiny, impressionable human beings that just needed somebody to believe in them. She allowed us to hold on to our fairy-tale dreams and moments of magical wonder while we worked hard at becoming lifelong learners. Instead of preparing us for any alternate “real world” where people were driven solely by numbers and bottom lines, she prepared us to believe in ourselves first, and to be there for others who needed us, for any reason. To accomplish this first would allow everything else to fall into place.

And it did. Here we are, 50 years later, living strong, productive lives where people still come first. As a teacher myself now for 30+ years, I look into the eyes of every one of my students, offering my own hope and belief in each of them as individuals who have dreams, ambitions, and simple desires to be acknowledged. I remember what it was like all those years ago when Mrs. Kubik offered that to us, and the need to be believed in is as important for our children today as it was for all of us, all those years ago.

When we completed our last year at Pine Grove in the mid-1970s and moved up to the scary and intimidating world of junior high school, Mrs. Kubik left us with the following words:

 

From Your Principal With Love,

Close to my heart is a secret place
Where dreams are stored away
And sturdy candles of faith are kept
Against a lonelier day.

My students are treasures I keep apart,
Cradled in hope within my heart —
Snub-nosed profiles, picture clear
Perfect moments, priceless-dear,
Etched in eternal time to be
My children,
The very soul of me.

Each child builds my world anew
A shaft of sunlight breaking through.
Each shape my tomorrow, change my life,
Banish my doubt and fear and strife.
Contentment now settles with this days sun.
My part is through, school years well done.
Pine Grove but a castle we built in the air.
Now it tumbles and leaves but a memory there.

These years that I have shared with you —
The tender, the frightened and fun times, too —
Your laughter and your precious pain,
Autumn leaves through summer rain,
My loving you — your loving me,
A kaleidoscope of memory.

Know wherever, whatever your future may be
You are treasures that none can take from me.
Now go freely to conquer your world,

Fly free,
     My students,
          My children,
               The soul of me!

There are so many of my peers whose lives were formed, strengthened, and empowered by Mrs. Helen Kubik to love ourselves, to love others, and to live our lives driven by compassion for all. She was more than a principal to us; she was magical, and will always be, faithfully and forever: Once Upon A Time.

A Declaration

When I was much younger, I would stand on the side of the road watching the fireworks being launched off of “Luskin’s Hill” just about a mile from my home. With each new sonic boom and brilliant blast of color, amidst the chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” that weaved through the crowd like the ripples of the American flag, I was the kid thinking about those “bombs bursting in air” and if they really looked like the fireworks that were exploding in front of me.

It was always impressed on me that the fourth of July was about what we went through to earn our freedoms, the sacrifices we made and the gutsy courage we displayed to build the foundation of a democratic, independent nation. I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that it has often been ugly. I had read Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. I knew we weren’t the Rockwellian image we’ve always hoped we might be. But what I extracted from these fireworks was a responsibility, a duty to those who gave us these freedoms, this independence; we owed it to the men and women who established a foundation of comfort, compassion, and opportunity for all within our United States.

Even as a kid, I felt obligated to uphold the legacy of what it means to be an American 200-plus years after the bursting of those bombs and the defiant red, white, and blue still waving in that dawn’s early light.

None of this has changed for me as I have gotten older, especially as I have learned more about the horrors of assimilation, the ugly demonstrations of cultural appropriation, and the despicable existence of racism still today. Yet, we believe that this is a time for us to boast our mighty strength and freedoms to the world, as the bodies of immigrants washing up on shores goes largely ignored.

Maybe that’s why things seem a little, oh, hollow these days when it comes to waving and praising that good old red white and blue. When I revisit the Declaration of Independence, I am reminded of why we broke free from Great Britain, and how we opened our arms for those in greatest need. The words of Emma Lazarus, who penned “A New Collosus” that is etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, ring true:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she / With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Have we forgotten this? Have we forgotten the actual text of the Declaration of Independence that outlines, very clearly, what we were breaking free from?

I offer you the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, below. Please read every word. Every single word.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them 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.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

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

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That 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, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

On this day of independence, on this day that we celebrate everything that America stands for, I offer a Declaration that is a little less of the grandiose and a little more of the introspective contemplation of what it means to be “American.”

  • I declare that, as an American, I respect the rights of my neighbors, regardless of political affiliation.
  • I declare that, as an American, I open my arms to the homeless, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses. 
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace the independence and individuality of my neighbors as long as that independence and individuality does not bring harm or injustice to others.
  • I declare that, as an American, I shout my encouraging words, my art, my music, my ideas, my beliefs of what is right for all to the world regardless of the risk of suppression or judgment.
  • I declare that, as an American, I work hard to support my community, to be honorable in my efforts, and to offer good will toward others who contribute to the wellness of our country.
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace inclusion, not exclusion, and my words and efforts shall carry opportunities instead of consequences. 

These declarations do not hinder or dampen our parades, our fireworks, our backyard picnics; instead, they shift our focus to what really makes America a united, independent nation that was once revered as the greatest place for opportunity and freedom.

Instead of excluding political opponents, instead of casting blame on each other, instead of beating our chests with mighty tanks and powerful flyovers, instead of using bellicose language and building ourselves up by putting others down, instead of turning away those in need, instead of abhorrent tweets and social media bullying, choose the essential elements upon which our country was founded: Life. Liberty. Happiness. For All.