The Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, flag-waving, parades, and patriotic oratory that tends to quote heavily from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. We are reminded of the freedoms we enjoy in the country and the sacrifices that have been made in support of those freedoms.
There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that. A periodic dose of old-fashioned patriotic rhetoric is an important reminder of the principles upon which this nation was founded.
But let’s go back for a minute to that uncomfortable little word “sacrifice.” It’s often paired with “service.” Almost always, in Fourth of July speeches, those two words refer to military service. And, certainly, both veterans and current members of the military deserve our respect and our gratitude.
They aren’t, however, the only ones. On July 3, the leading article in our local newspaper pointed out that six of the seven current members of the school board gained their positions by default. When they were elected, no one ran against them.
This probably shouldn’t be surprising. Serving on a school board may well be one of the most thankless forms of public service in the country. Members of the public pretty much ignore what you do until there’s a problem. We’re facing one of those problems in our school district right now, in the form of a major budget cut. At such a time, the phone calls start, and the online comments, and the letters to the editor, many featuring words like “idiots” and “irresponsible.” After all, everybody went to school, which makes everybody an expert, and everybody has an opinion, frequently critical.
As we celebrate our Independence Day, the speakers and writers who evoke noble principles and stirring ideals remind us of the “why” that is the foundation of our country. The “how” that keeps that foundation solid relies on the people who show up on a daily basis to do the work. This is patriotism with its sleeves rolled up.
People like those who serve on school boards. Also city councils, zoning boards, township boards, homeowners associations, and fire districts. Not to mention poll workers, volunteer fire fighters, members of search and rescue squads, members of service clubs, volunteers who serve their communities in countless ways, those who write thought-provoking and informed letters to the editor, and people who pick up trash along the sidewalks on their daily walks.
Patriotism doesn’t always mean being willing to die for your country. Sometimes it means being willing to wrestle with budgets and sit through endless meetings. So this Fourth of July, when you think about freedom and patriotism and service, please wave your flag a time or two in appreciation of the unsung everyday heroes who do exactly that.