The July 4th celebrations in our nation’s capital and throughout America refreshed and united us in a very special way. After last year’s cancellation of public events because of the pandemic, it was good to see the fireworks flashing over the Washington monument, hear the patriotic music blaring from the Capitol, and witness the throngs of people gathered on the Mall and around the city, enjoying the entire spectacle.
This year’s festivities brought back fond memories from 15 years ago of my five children brandishing sparklers and chasing fireflies on the South Lawn of the White House on the Fourth. But the celebration of America’s independence is not about nostalgia and sentimentality but instead, courage and commitment. Too often we Americans take for granted the precious grant of freedom we enjoy. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness don’t just fall from the skies like manna. They require a heartfelt recognition that because all men and women are created equal, each of us has a responsibility to ensure that our nation’s high ideals are not empty promises or reserved only for the strong and few. Each of us must pay a price so that all Americans of every race and creed realize the promises of those who went before us.
Loneliness threatens independence
Recently I heard from a friend who was lamenting the decline of social capital and connections between people, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. She shared how this lack of connection to and care for our neighbors, and the loneliness that has resulted, amount to an attack on freedom and independence.
I think she was right. What happened in 1776 is of little significance to seniors living all alone in the 21st century. Yes, the “pursuit of happiness” can fairly describe the lives of many seniors as they bask in the glory of retirement, grandchildren, and meaningful engagement with the world around them. But for others – the ones who are lonely and alone – the golden years can seem like an endless pursuit of unhappiness.
Blessing and curse
The pandemic simply heightened this chasm between the “two Americas” which our elderly inhabit. Some experience retirement as a blessing, and others, as a curse. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., offers us insight into the path forward where these two starkly opposed realities of senior living can converge so that the grant of freedom can be equally shared. It is the path of love. He wrote, “Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys…. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that.”
We have heard the slogan throughout the pandemic, “We are all in this together.” Now that restrictions are lifting and previous freedoms enjoyed restored, we will find out if we learned anything from Covid captivity. Will love, companionship, and neighborly care blossom and grow? We shall see. Loneliness threatens freedom every bit as invidiously as the tyrants and autocrats of every age, and their false ideologies. It might be good for each of us to think about how we can devote our voices and efforts to what Reverend Doctor King encouraged – by reaching out to the seniors in our lives, on our streets, in our care facilities, and at life’s end.