334. Independence

I’m writing this article the day after Independence Day. I realized, as I woke, that the word “independence” contains a prefix. We have a holiday to celebrate something we aren’t. In fact, on July 4, 1776, all we did was publish a document that said we weren’t dependent. It’s kind of like Groundhog’s Day; we celebrate something that we once hoped would eventually be true. But really, I think King George may have had a point when he wrote, “Nothing of significance happened today.” All that happened was the signing of a document. Later on, that turned out to be significant, but not until a whole bunch of other things happened.
Even though Barbra Streisand later sang to us that people who need people are better off, independence is still a big concept in our culture. I was excited about the prospect of going to the big celebration yesterday, seeing lots of people I knew and liked, and ending the evening with a bang, but the wheelchair- accessible buses weren’t running, and there was too great a chance of heavy rain. In situations like that, celebrating my own independence is not a good idea. I could end up getting soaked
Independence is relative. It could be a good thing, but acting independent prematurely could turn out to be a real downer. It depends. Children like to be independent. They often don’t want us to help them. They want to do it themselves. They see adults doing things without help, and if adults can do it, then why not children? They don’t want to have to wait until their eighteenth or twenty-first birthdays. And we adults like to be independent, too. One of the major reasons I’m glad I grew up is that I don’t have to be as dependent as I used to be. So it’s a little embarrassing and a little disappointing to find, at age forty- seven, that I have some special needs that I didn’t have before. But at least I’ve grown up enough not to need someone else to tell me that I have special needs.
We often want our parents to be there for us long after we’ve grown up. And parents often are there, helping out with a down payment, or staying with the grandchildren in a pinch. On the other hand, our parents can get to a point where they depend on us more than we depend on them. But I’ve heard, from people whose parents have died, that even if those parents ended their lives extremely dependent, the grown children who mourn their passing can still feel like orphans. People only want to be as independent as they want to be. And people who need people are really only lucky if there are also people around willing to be needed, and willing to back off when they’re not needed. If not, people who don’t need people are the luckiest people in the world.

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