Independence Day was often a misnomer when I was a kid.
History was lost on me. I cared little about the founding fathers. The Fourth was all about the fireworks.
So that day became a reminder not of independence, but dependence. I depended on richer friends to share bottle rockets and I relied on older people to drive me to higher ground to see our town’s whiz-bang fireworks display.
On my tenth Fourth of July, nobody would take me to the big show. There would be no oohs or ahhs.
But, oh, there would be noise! I was not one to suffer quietly. I found an old tin box full of marbles and made a ruckus worthy of a revolution. It wasn’t the shot heard ‘round the world, but my Mom sure heard it.
Took me weeks to find where she hid those things! So much for freedom of expression.
As a journalist, I cherish that freedom. So last Thursday was hard in many ways. News of the shooting at a Maryland newspaper office broke while I was out reporting on damage from a storm that tore through the county. The shooting victims were doing their jobs that day, just like I and so many other journalists across America.
I had no doubt that the Capital Gazette would put out a paper the next morning. Reporting, no matter how challenging the circumstances, is what we do. Still, somehow, ending my day at a ribbon-cutting seemed inconsequential in contrast to the drama in Annapolis.
Greater significance was found on my way home. I noticed a sign outside a pharmacy promoting a giveaway of Narcan, the opioid overdose drug. I’ve had several sobering discussions with law enforcement leaders about how deadly opioids are to addicts and first responders. This was a worthy story.
People can be exposed to lethal amounts just by swinging open a door and stirring the air in an addict’s home. Law enforcement folks have used Narcan to save lives in the county. Making the stuff available to folks who can’t afford it just makes sense.
Nothing seemed to make sense, however, after I wrote the story and posted it on social media. I thought it was important to spread the word. Stories like this make community news sources like the Capital Gazette and the Journal-Express essential.
Many people responded negatively toward the giveaway and the people who might benefit from it. Most comments, sadly, were scornful or vulgar. One person simply wrote “I say let them die, it was their choice.”
I could choose to ignore such comments, but it’s more important to hold a mirror up to them. As the latest massacre proved, internet ugliness can fester into real tragedy.
The broader tragedy is something to ponder as we celebrate our independence. We’re on fairly good terms with the British 232 years later, but we often don’t get along with ourselves very well. Independence has its place, but more often than not, interdependence is a higher virtue.
When we fail to show empathy or compassion to our fellow humans based on choices they’ve made, we’re headed toward bad choices ourselves. Turning our backs on people because of their addictions or other predicaments weakens not only them, but us as a society.
Last night’s fireworks already are fading from our memories, but today’s opportunities await. I’m crazy enough to believe that the unity we felt on Independence Day can make us a stronger, more interdependent community and nation every day.
Or maybe I’ve simply, once again, lost my marbles.