We Americans love our freedom. Maybe that’s why the 4th of July is such a cherished holiday. We like the idea of our nation being the result of a scrappy bunch of youngsters who stood up to big bad England and won freedom for themselves.

Even when we regulate ourselves with seat belt laws and the like, we still love the illusion of absolute freedom. I think that’s a large part of why people push back against wearing face masks; it’s uncomfortable and Americans hate when someone tells them to do anything that causes discomfort. Personal freedom! We shout. All lives matter!

These are the ideals that draw immigrants to the US – the freedom to be whomever you want, to redefine yourself, even change your name if you choose. Because here, everyone is free. Everyone matters.

It is an illusion, but it is also a helpful one, an illusion that draws Americans of all backgrounds to pursue freedom and dignity for all. It is why sometimes the national cry veers to “Jewish lives matter” when eleven Jews are gunned down at prayer on a Shabbat morning in Pittsburgh. It is why the national cry has moved to “Black lives matter” as the rest of America awakens to the knowledge that it can be dangerous simply to be Black.

This July 4th is when we read the story of Balak and Balaam in the Bible. One, a king, wants the other to curse the Children of Israel as they camp in the desert. The other, a prophet of sorts, cannot bring himself to do it, no matter how hard the king tries. In the end, he blesses the people rather than cursing them.

It is interesting that the Children of Israel aren’t directly involved in the drama. In fact, they are completely unaware of what is going on. Two forces are striving to change their fate, but they are oblivious.

This is a powerful lesson. There are times when we are unaware of the winds that are blowing us, the competing forces that will eventually change our lives. We are left with a choice: How to react when the change arrives. We are free to do as we like. We can complain, we can fight for a new reality, we can accept and deal with what is given to us.

Like those scrappy young know-it-alls who created our imperfect nation, I vote for fighting for a new reality. I want Black lives to matter as much as White lives. I want someone to create an effective vaccine against Covid. I want people to wear masks and protect themselves and me because all lives do matter.

I will play my own small part by working to turn my desires into realities: I will march and speak out for Black lives; I will donate to causes that support medical research; I will wear a face mask. These are just some of the freedoms I choose to exercise, on Independence Day and every day.