SPEAKING OF VALUES By Joseph WalkerTell the truth. After the last firework has exploded and the last “oohs” and “aahs” have been “oohed” and “aahed,” doesn't the traditional Fourth of July celebration

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:53

    I know it does for me. Not that I haven’t tried to fill the void with fried chicken, parades, barbecues, three-legged races, watermelon, band concerts in the park, home-made ice cream, baseball, apple pie and, of course, more fireworks than you can shake a sparkler at. I’ve enjoyed all of it - especially the parts that involve eating. But for years I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that there’s something missing in the way we observe America’s birthday. Which, come to think of it, might be part of the problem right there. The Fourth of July is essentially a national birthday party, right? So.. where are the presents? On my birthday I get presents. On other birthdays I give presents. And on Christmas, another holiday/birthday celebration, everybody gets presents and everybody gives presents. The getting and giving are part of what makes those special days so.. well.. special. But the Fourth of July isn’t as much about getting or giving as it is about doing. And going. And seeing. And eating. All of which are wonderful pastimes. But a birthday party? I don’t think so - not unless there are presents involved. So I’m proposing that we establish a new tradition of giving on the Fourth of July - not to each other, but to the birthday girl herself. And what do you buy a 233-year-old democracy on her birthday? Well, you don’t buy her anything. You give her a bit of yourself: your time, your talents, your energy. What would happen if everyone in America voluntarily did something for their country each July 4? Not only would we feel better about the holiday, but we’d also have a new and improved country to wake up to every July 5. It would be like getting two holidays for the price of one! Of course, this first time around you may need some help with ideas. That’s where I come in. I’ve been giving the matter some thought, and here are three personal initiatives you may want to consider for your First Annual Birthday Present to America : 1. Give the old girl a face lift. Sure, she’ll always be “ America the Beautiful.” But she’s 233 years old, for Pete’s sake. She can use a little cosmetic tune-up here and there. Just look around you. Isn’t there a stretch of highway that needs to be de-littered, or a playground that needs to be cleaned up, or some graffiti-filled walls that need to be re-painted? Granted, we may not be able to eliminate urban - and suburban - blight in one weekend. But if we pull together we can certainly put a shine on our little corner of our country. 2. Be nice. When it comes right down to it, your mom was right: niceness counts. As simplistic as it sounds, many of America’s most disturbing social concerns would be less trying if people would just be nice to each other. That’s why it’s important to remember that happiness and friendliness are contagious, and you’ll be giving America a great gift if you become a carrier. While it’s true that kindness alone won’t solve all our problems, it’ll make dealing with them much more pleasant. For all of us. 3. Volunteer. One of the great things about America is activism. Whether you’re concerned about drugs, pornography, the environment or gang violence, there are organizations out there trying to help. So instead of wringing your hands over what’s wrong with this country, get involved with what’s right. The way I see it, no matter how much we pray for God to bless America, when it comes right down to it, He’s usually going to answer those prayers through us. Which sort of makes you God’s birthday present to America. How can anybody feel empty on the Fourth of July knowing that? A birthday present for America