Independence

Photo by Peter Leonard
Photo by Peter Leonard

I may not be a kid anymore, but I still get a kick out of 4th of July pyrotechnics. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Families and friends gather to watch the festivities, oohing and aahing at the spectacle, especially the grand finale. When all of those rockets get set off at once, I can’t help imagining it as a Looney Tunes moment: Wile E. Coyote accidentally sets off a whole truckload of Acme Fireworks, and the Road Runner escapes again.

In last year’s Independence Day post, I reflected on the history of the tradition.  In principle, the holiday commemorates the political independence of a nation, its freedom from tyranny and religious oppression.  But truth be told, I doubt that many of us, perhaps save military veterans or their families, are thinking about such things when we’re watching the fireworks show. Heck, I doubt many of us remember which “rockets’ red glare” Francis Scott Key was referring to when he wrote The Star Spangled Banner.

No, as I’ve been reminded in a recent conversation with a friend, there is a different kind of independence that we take for granted on a daily basis.  It’s part of our ingrained cultural mythology: a rugged individualism that stretches all the way from “You’re not the boss of me!” to the unwillingness to recognize an increasing need for assistance in our later years.

The senior health care industry has its graduated euphemisms: from staying in your own home to “independent living” to “assisted living” to “skilled care.”  Whatever the language, the reality is this: our personal independence is relative and always has been.

We all depend on assistance, albeit of different types and degrees.  My mother lives in an assisted living facility; my father, God rest his soul, never did.  But he wore a pacemaker for decades, a hearing aid in each ear, and had his right hip surgically repaired twice.

If that’s not assisted living, I don’t know what is.

Cradle to grave, we depend on others.  As babies, our dependence is total, leaving us vulnerable.  Hopefully, our parents raise us to be “independent” — but again, that independence is a relative one.  There are things we can and must learn to do for ourselves.  But we are never completely isolated from a web of relationships which we often take for granted.  Without it, we would not have jobs to go to, ways to get us there, food to eat, or homes to return to at night.

We’re quite fond of the myth of our independence (well, at least I am).  Even the idea of being dependent upon God can be a distasteful one, a last-resort position of surrender when we’ve finally wearied of banging our head against a wall.

The point is not, of course, that we have no real will to exercise, nor that our sense of initiative is only an illusion.  But to quote the apostle Paul, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?  And if you received it, then why are you bragging as if you didn’t receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7, CEB).

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too (Ps 24:1, CEB).  As we celebrate our national independence, let us also rest assured in the trustworthiness of our Father, whose dependability takes the sting out of dependence.