I read in the paper this report from the Associated Press about the inconvenience this year’s July 4 will place on holiday plans. As the holiday falls on Wednesday, many people won’t get the benefit of an extended weekend. It’s got some people grumbling.
Maybe it struck me because of two articles I read in Sunday’s New York Times. The first questioned our busyness. Americans seem to be very busy – an almost weird badge of honor. The second was some helpful guidelines on how to take a vacation successfully. Among some of the tips was don’t do your e-mail or even try to work just a little bit. One of the points in the guidelines was that sometimes national holidays, such as Columbus Day and Memorial Day can be more relaxing than a vacation because we don’t prepare at work for a three-day weekend as we do before we go on a vacation. (Our intensive preparation before vacation creates in us a high expectation for a great vacation, which can work against us.)
The three articles are sort of a sad commentary upon our contemporary society. Why do we make ourselves crazy busy? Why do people feel the need to be tethered to e-mail or a telephone at all times (or even a lot of the time)? Why do we feel we must respond immediately? When we really think about the conversations we have, how many cannot wait a few hours or even a day or two before responding? Do we really believe that our companies and organizations can’t function without us? Or do we fear that someone will outshine us while we’re gone?
I’m old enough to remember when basically nothing was open on Sundays. As a child Sundays seemed to drag on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. But today Sunday is another day to do “stuff.” We don’t have to do our errands on Saturday because the stores are open.
We lost touch with Sabbath. Sabbath is not a day off as much as it is break from our day-to-day living. In his magnificent book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”
Judging from the guidelines to prepare for vacation, the dissatisfaction with July 4 being on a Wednesday may stem from people not setting time aside each day let alone each week to stop their activities and just take time to reflect. So, a holiday, a day when many people don’t have to work (although our supermarkets are open for July 4 – so much for giving people the day off), becomes a sort of enforced time to stop their daily activities. It’s a welcome respite to be sure, but that perspective has trumped its purpose, to commemorate the day this nation asserted its independence from England and the crown.
In some way, finding a Wednesday commemoration of our nation’s founding as an inconvenience points to an ego-centric view of the world, “the holiday serves me.” It indicates that we’ve lost a collective perspective, which was implicit in the founding of this nation.
When individualism takes precedence over collectivism, community becomes diminished. We lose a sense of responsibility for each other. Working to ensure the common good gets set aside. Instead people seek their betterment at the expense of others.
We can’t continue to be a great nation if we think too highly of ourselves at the expense of our neighbor.