It wasn't on the 4th of July. I'm not talking about our nation's Independence Day. I''d like to tell you about the day I truly understood what Independence Day was all about.
It was an autumn day in 1990, I was travelling from Portland to Philadelphia for a business conference. It was a long, frustrating day of airline flights. I left home early in the morning to to make sure I got to the airport with time to spare. My flight out of Portland was full, the flight attendants were slightly surly, and I had a chatty Charley sitting next to me for the entire flight.
Thunderstorms in the east had caused flight delays, and O'Hare International Airport was full of grumpy travelers like myself who just wanted to get the heck out of there. Let me tell you, there's nothing more enjoyable then spending several hours in an airport bar with dozens of your new best surly friends.
Late afternoon came and went. I finally boarded my connecting flight to Philadelphia. Because of the delay in Chicago, it looked like we'd be arriving in Philadelphia at around 10pm, a long day indeed. In the back of my mind I wondered if I would have time during the business conference to sneak away and do some sightseeing. I'd been a U.S. history buff since I was a kid, and knew all the
stories about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the war of
Independence, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams etc.
My flight finally landed in Philadelphia at around 10pm. I grabbed my bags from the luggage carousal, hailed a cab, and was at my hotel by 11pm. After checking into my room, I was still wired from all the travel and decided to take a walk around the block. I left the hotel entrance, took a left turn, and then another left at the end of the block. And in the distance, about three blocks away and bathed in brilliant light in the night, there it was. Independence Hall.
You can read all your life about history. Intellectually, you understand the stories, the people, the context of events. But when I saw Independence Hall that night, brilliantly lit in that late night, It hit me. It was REAL. Right in front of me. It wasn't just some story in a book.
I did have time to do sightseeing during that trip. I visited Independence Hall and saw the room where the Declaration of Independence was debated. I visited a common grave filled with British and American soldiers just down the street from Independence Hall. I saw Benjamin Franklin's grave. I visited the home of Betsy Ross. Yes, I saw the Liberty Bell.
I don't remember anything about that business conference. But I'll always remember the reality of the sacrifice and the genius of our founding fathers, and of the gift of freedom they gave to our nation.