Freedom. What does it actually mean? We know the overarching idea of it as it is used to collectively describe the struggle and successes that led our nation into one of the greatest Democracies on the planet. Our struggle is centuries long and continues still. It is rife with the loss of life as people of all races, creeds, and colors stood bravely as heralds of our proclamation and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Their loyalty and courage are so profound it is impossible to be grateful enough for them. As the decades passed and the successes from those struggles bloomed into a prosperous nation, the idea of freedom was no longer just a hope, it became an expectation. At some point, it blurred into the idea that is was a right. Somewhere along the way, and maybe it’s a function of progress, excess, distraction, or division, the uniting thread of “our” seems to have started to unravel into the self-centered fray of “my.”
Our freedom. My freedom. One of them embraces the whole and as an all-encompassing mantra, is supposed to be inclusive of “we the people.” The other embraces the singular, and too often that which is selfish, woefully forgetting the sacrifice of others.
And that’s the word that really nails it. Sacrifice. Freedom takes sacrifice. “My” freedom cannot exist without “our” freedom. Democracy can’t work any other way.
We don’t personally know a single soldier who has died fighting for our country or a first responder who lost their lives in a terrorist attack, a fire, a crime, or an attempt to save a fellow human being. Does it mean that because we don’t know them we have no responsibility to them? It most surely does not! What we all know, and what our patriotism imbues, is the notion that because of them we are free. Their sacrifice enables us to live a safer, more secure existence and pursue the dreams that we were told were possible from the time we were born. Dreams made possible by “our” freedom.
“We the people” owe a debt to those who fought for us without knowing us, without regard to how we lived or who we loved, how good or bad we were, how generous or how selfish we were. We pay that debt back by remembering. And, by doing our damnedest to make sure we pick up where they left off…protecting each other from the mayhem, in whatever form it takes so that our great Democracy can continue on — so that not just some are free, but all are free. That not just some are fortunate, but all have a fighting chance, that not just some remain healthy and secure but that all can live without fear, knowing those are truly accessible.
The sacrifice that is occurring now in this country is epic. Front line workers are risking their lives to save fellow Americans from a pandemic that in February felt almost inconsequential and by March was ripping through parts of our country. Now, as it pummels our country, the chaotic messaging of “do and don’t” has become weaponized. After little sacrifice, “my freedom” roared into the public space. “I can’t” “I won’t” “I don’t know anyone” “I don’t believe it” “they were sick anyway” “I have a right…”
If we are not each other’s lifeline, regardless of why we are drowning, who will be?
In maritime law, The Salvage Act states: “a master or individual in charge of a vessel shall render assistance to any individual found at sea in danger of being lost, so far as the master or individual in charge can do so without serious danger to the master’s or individual’s vessel or individuals on board.” The Standby Act imposes a duty on a vessel master or person in charge of a vessel that has been in a casualty to “render necessary assistance to each individual affected to save that affected individual from danger caused by the marine casualty” as long as it can be done without serious injury to the assisting vessel, its crew, and passengers.
International law via the Brussels Convention mandates: “Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel, her crew and passengers, to render assistance to everybody, even though an enemy, found at sea in danger of being lost.”
As boaters, we talk of this often when we are traveling the waters of this great country – pondering what we would do and how we would do it if called to rescue someone. While it’s impossible to know if we’d be ready and capable, we do know we’d do everything we could to do the right thing. In our opinion, right now in this country, there are many in need of rescue.
We are far from perfect, and as we pen this, it is a reminder to ourselves that while we’ve been forced to make changes to our life because of the pandemic, they are inconsequential compared to the sacrifices so many in this country have suffered – businesses crushed, jobs lost, first responders physically overburdened and emotionally overwhelmed, and most devastating, the loss of over 130,000 lives in our country alone as this pandemic rages on.
We honor our freedom this July 4th by making whatever small sacrifice it takes to try and defeat this enemy. Though the distance may be long and the waters rough, if our actions can save even one life – a person we may never know, living somewhere, loved by someone – should we not give it our all? On this day, we remember that we are the United States of America and that freedom is a gift from all of us to each other.