As I sit here this morning on the 232nd birthday of Independence Day, I have very mixed feelings about how much to celebrate. It is true that many have given their lives (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) for the life and liberty that we enjoy and that too many take for granted. Yet, as I ponder words like "liberty"', "freedom", and "independence", I wonder just how they apply to many of us. We are not free from our dependence on foreign oil. Many of us are economically trapped by rising prices, lower wages, fewer jobs, rising debt, and the like. Many of us are prohibited by law or by simple discrimination from freely expressing our love for the person whom we have committed ourselves too and from enjoying the same rights and privileges of our heterosexual counterparts. As I watch the news, it seems that our government often has us in a stranglehold -- oh yes, we the people elected these folks to represent us, but do they? Or do they represent the special interests and monied lobbying groups who can fuel their re-election campaign with much needed money? It is impossible for an average Joe to get nominated for or elected to the office of the President, although there are some highly capable and qualified people who don't have the name recognition or huge net worth that it now takes to get into nearly any office. Mind you, I am not proposing that we scrap the US or our way of life. What I am suggesting is that as you eat the picnic dinners, play the games, watch the fireworks and all that you not take liberty for granted. It comes with a price -- that price is learning to work and live side by side with people who, in many ways, are different from you -- different ethnicities, different religions (Contrary to the beliefs and preaching of some, we are NOT a Christian nation), different orientations or family structures, different economic levels, different educational backgrounds, different political opinions, and more. Even with all those differences (and those I've missed), we are Americans. Sometimes we work to change others, sometimes we have to work to change ourselves, sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but still we are all Americans bound together by principles and a legacy that transcend all that "stuff" that separates us from one another. Pause today to remember not only the flag waving and bumper sticker kinds of patriotism, but the deeper historically ingrained patriotism that allows us to love this country while at the same time recognizing that we are not perfect and that we do not have all the answers. Enjoy this day of celebration, but also remember to work to preserve and strengthen the fabric of these United States by being informed and involved and by being willing to listen to other views and to speak out against injustice. Freedom is hard work -- be a part of it or risk losing it. And that's the way I see it today. Happy Birthday, United States -- you are a grand old gal!