“Show respect for those who have served. Most important of all, show your gratitude by enjoying the freedoms and rights that so many have fought and died for. Don't let their deaths be in vain. Exercise your right to vote, your right to free speech, and be happy for your freedom to do as you wish.”
—Jason Timmerman, Army 1st Lt.
I heard the above words at a Memorial Day event earlier this year — sadly, not from the young man who had originally spoken them: Jason Timmerman died five years ago while serving in Iraq. He was just 24 years old.
The quote is taken from a Veterans Day speech he gave to his former high school shortly before his death. What struck me about it was its profound simplicity: that true patriotism is nothing more or less than living fully the life that others have died to provide for you.
In these days of blow hard talking heads who stir up political unrest for the sake of ratings, Mr. Timmerman’s words offer deep meaning. They strip away what divides us and replace it with our common bond: we are all American and must each strive to protect and defend that honor.
Doing so is astonishingly easy. Yet too few of us bother.
Voting is a prime example of our apathy. In 1988, 73.5% of us here in Travis County voted for president; in 2008, that declined to 66.1%. The governor fared even worse: 20 years ago 65.4% of us cared enough to cast a ballot; last time around, only 40.3% of us did. And local elections may as well not be held at all: shockingly, just 15% of registered voters showed-up for this year’s party primary election, and only 7.5% turned-out for last year’s constitutional amendment election.
It seems a bit disingenuous to give ourselves a holiday to celebrate our independence when we apparently don’t care enough about it to perform a few simple civic duties to ensure its continuation.
And when you consider that more than 200,000 folks won’t get to hang out with their families around a bar-b-que this 4th of July because they’re halfway around the world fighting for the rights the rest of us so blithely ignore — including Jason Timmerman, who ironically died after providing security for the Iraqi elections— well, you have to wonder how any of us can look ourselves in a mirror, much less go hunting for bargains at the mall’s Independence Day Sale.
Regardless of how you feel about our current wars, regardless of whether you believe they are necessary to our nation’s security or a waste of money and human capital, you owe it to those stuck in harm’s way to get off your butt and make their sacrifice worthwhile. This means taking seriously your patriotism instead of trotting it out once a year with a beer and some hot dogs.
The 4th of July should be about remembering —and teaching our children— who we are as a nation, what we stand for, and what is expected of each of us to keep it that way. And let’s face it: not much is expected of most of us. At least not when you think about what was expected of Jason Timmerman, and countless others like him, who died in the line of duty on the other side of the world because they volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way for their country. Really puts our apathy into perspective — and not a good one.
So this 4th of July, as you’re watching those amazing fireworks displays with all of your family in the comfort and safety of your hometown, remember that somewhere at that very moment a kid in fatigues is sitting in the middle of a foreign desert and watching some fireworks of his own — and praying they don’t end his (or her) life.
Live your life worthy of the sacrifice: vote, exercise your right to free speech, and be profoundly grateful for your freedom to do as you wish. It really is the least you can do.
Kim Pleticha is editor and publisher of Parent:Wise magazine.