I have so many things on my mind and heart, that I am a little torn about where to start. I guess I will start by saying that I wanted to acknowledge that we have just passed through the month of Ramadan.
What I already knew about Ramadan: - Since Islam follows a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan change every year. - Followers of Islam fast during the days, eating only before sunrise and after sunset. They also say extra prayers during this time. - Paying respect to this holy month is a great opportunity to highlight some of my favorite food - Moroccan/North African.
What I just learned about Ramadan: - Those who cannot fast, such as the ill, elderly, pregnant, or nursing mothers, make up for it by feeding the hungry. - Ramadan marks the month in 610 AD when the prophet Mohammed began receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel. These divine revelations form the basis of the Quran. - Beginning in 1996, then-first lady, Hillary Clinton, hosted the first Ramadan dinner at the White House. The tradition was continued every year by the President of the United States, up through last year.
The source I read did not have updated data as to the current administration's participation of this tradition. However, all it took was a quick Google search to confirm what I already knew. CNN reported that for the first time in two decades, neither the White House nor the Secretary of State hosted any celebrations commemorating Ramadan. The previous three administrations hosted either an iftar or an Eid al-Fitr (the 3-day festival marking the end of Ramadan) celebration. Attended by prominent members of the Muslim community, members of Congress, and diplomats from Muslim countries, Once upon a time, these dinners were certainly a gesture of much-needed good will. I don't need to state the obvious of what kind of gesture not hosting a Ramadan dinner conveys...
However, this does bring me to the second and third things I wanted to talk about, which are remembering the true meaning of the 4th of July and where the United States currently stands in relation to the values it was founded on. Oh yes, and the 4th thing - what constitutes absolute freedom. I am going to move quickly through all of these thoughts, as this is supposed to only be a 4-paragraph blog, rather than a 4-page essay. (Watch out, world, if I actually get a publishing deal...lol!)
So, I don't know about you, but when a holiday rolls around and all the paper plates, cups, napkins, decorations, and even food in the stores thematically change, at that time I stop and ponder what the holiday really means, beyond all the consumerism. Last year I attended the Independence Day parade held in Hillsborough. The parade was as little as our downtown, yet afterwards, the organizers did something very big. Several members of the town government took turns reading the Declaration of Independence. Oh yeah! The Declaration of Independence... I do remember studying that back in middle school US History. I certainly had not refreshed my memory about it too much since then. Being that we are talking about the true meaning of holidays, I think it is appropriate to quote some of the preamble here: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." As for where our country stands in terms of the visions of the Founding Fathers, that is a mixed bag. Certainly we have expanded upon the definition of the "men [that] are created equal," such that in theory, at least, we now consider the rights of all humans to be sacred. It is very thought-provoking to read the entire list of grievances against the King of England that is contained within the Declaration of Independence. You can read the entire document here, and I would request that when you have time you do so, as it is very important to familiarize ourselves with what our Nation's Founders considered tyranny. (insert pregnant pause, fraught with meaning) How is it that the USA of today looks a little more like the England of yesteryear than Thomas Jefferson could have ever imagined? This NY Times article is extremely eye-opening about true political activism vs. political hobbyism, and the dangers of the latter. I know I keep inserting links and urging you to do extra reading, when all you might be wanting to do is order lunch. Got it. But at least this once, please read these two things, as part of your holiday celebration.
Personally, I admit wholeheartedly to being a political hobbyist. I get all worked up about the state of affairs. I vent to you all about it. I attend a meeting or two, and I have not, as yet, taken my involvement farther than that. Part of the reason for that is that I feel overwhelmed and crushingly busy in my life. The main reason however, is that I maintain a deep conviction that regardless of the problems this world throws at us, the solution is spiritual. A mere change of policy and policy makers cannot alleviate us from the existential ills we suffer from. Who or what can actually free humankind from the shackles of birth and death, of old age, misfortune and disease? No matter where we go in time or space, we must confront these harsh realities because they are woven in to the very fabric of this dualistic material existence. All scriptures maintain that to achieve independence from suffering, one must end the misidentification with the temporary body and mind.
So much easier said than done. Nothing exists in a vacuum. It is not possible to simply negate the body and the mind (although several meditation processes aim to do that), rather we have to replace our identification with the body, with an identification that does not change. Only God, His servants (that's us, y'all), and His abode (ultimate vacation destination) are unchanging. The Vedas, and in particular, the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, translated by His Divine Grace ACBhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada, discuss these concepts extensively.
There, I went and did it again - suggested that you should read just one more thing. On a holiday no less! I know, I know, craziness! Forgive me.
I really just wanted to say that although we are celebrating a revolutionary moment in history, we have to acknowledge that it is indeed just that, a moment in history. Things change. Governments (for better or for worse) come and go. We, as humans, though, have the perpetual right to inquire about the solutions to the sufferings of this world. To err is human, to inquire is divine.