I'm well aware today is July 4th, Independence Day, America's birthday. But for me, this day is a summer edition of Thanksgiving for several reasons. As with that November holiday, there are no gifts to buy on Independence Day. The emphasis is on getting together with friends and/or family, eating (and perhaps drinking) too much, and hanging out. My kind of holiday.
Unlike Thanksgiving, however, on July 4th I think about independence--mine, to be specific. At this stage of my life, I have a great deal of freedom. I'm old enough to know what I want and young enough to expend the energy to get it or do it. I'm fortunate to enjoy good health, which is essential to complete independence. My relationship with Nick is an easy one that continues to grow more rewarding, and we don't try to 'control' each other. I've been self-employed for 18 years, so there's no one telling me what I can and can't do. Like everyone else I know, I have money concerns, but I'm not hurting for the comforts of food, clothing, and shelter.
All that is my way of saying that giving thanks for personal independence is important. It's something to be acknowledged, savored, and celebrated, because it can be fleeting. Without notice, our independence can disappear, often the result of major health or financial conditions. Or it can be taken away, piece by piece, over time, until there's none left.
For example, there's my mother Ruth. She married early (at age 20) and almost immediately began raising kids--a total of five, born over the course of 17 years. She took care of a loving husband during a 52-year marriage, nursed him through his year-long illness, and mourned his death for years. Four years after my father died, Ruth's mother became ill and died.
A few months later, Ruth was at last fully free and independent for what I believe was the first time in her life. To celebrate, in 1998 she bought one of the first Volkswagen New Beetles to roll off the production line using money she'd inherited from her mother. Ruth was never happier than when she was tooling around town in her adorable white car, which--due to its scarcity at the time--got a lot of attention.
I was with Ruth one day when a stranger approached us in the Beetle and asked, "How did you get that car?"
My mother, who was 79 at the time, smiled mischievously and said, "My mother bought it for me."
|I combined two of Ruth's paintings, of her Beetle and a purple cow, and Photoshopped them together with her photo.|
Sadly, Ruth's independence lasted only a few years. By 2003, her sister was dying, and Ruth was once again in a caregiver role. And then, over the next two years, my sisters and I began noticing our mother's memory lapses.
Upon a doctor's advice, we had to take away the keys to Ruth's beloved Beetle--a wrenching experience for everyone involved. If that weren't enough, later that year, my sisters and I had no choice but to force Ruth from her home of nearly 50 years.
By that point, Ruth's Alzheimer's had progressed, she'd fallen several times, she'd nearly caught the kitchen on fire; you get the picture. Her continued existence in that big house was a disaster in the making. And so, again upon her doctor's advice, we moved Ruth to a retirement community where she could be safe and secure, and we hired our niece Marcy to be her caregiver. Four years later, after Ruth had wandered off at night more than once (perhaps looking for her Beetle), we had to move her again. Today she lives in an Alzheimer's facility where you must press buzzers and punch in codes to come and go--the exact opposite of independence.
And so, on this 4th of July, as the fireworks rise, explode, and quickly fade, I'll be giving thanks for the independence I enjoy today, because I know that, like fireworks, it can't last.