I probably like Independence Day as much as any red-blooded American. Probably I focus on its original meaning and significance more than many citizens. None of this business of having it be little more than an excuse to frolic outdoors or get drunk on 4 July every year! Nosireebob!
But something sets this holiday apart from others, more than simply its national import and its being the anniversary of the birth of these United States. You see, dear reader, more than one Fourth of July has turned into an unanticipated time of sorrow for me, due to a death or deaths that touched me closely.
It began on Independence Day of 1967 or '68, when I was of junior high age in Boise, Idaho. Two little boys lived across the street for us; my Dad called them the "two wild Indians". Which gives you the picture that these two boys were in serious need of Valium or Ritalin (were they available back then). Late on that Independence Day their mother came to our door asking if we had seen them. They were missing! Soon Dad and I were involved in the search for the little fellas, walking streets of our neighborhood and banks of the New York Canal, a huge irrigation ditch that bordered it. Across the canal lay a golf course which in that era was the site of the July Fourth fireworks show for the city. In past years I'd greatly enjoyed the pyrotechnics -- I really am a fan of them! But that Independence Day was quite surreal, as the fireworks flashed overhead and we continued our search. Alas! a day or two later the boys' bodies were found in the canal. Death had struck on Independence Day. . . .
In 1984, a year of all-around sad remembrance, we were living in Crossville, Tennessee, where I was pastoring a Disciples of Christ church and wife Ellen was expecting our second child. But on the First of the month she was still-born. Ellen remained in the hospital for a few days recovering from the cesarean section. So it fell on me to arrange and carry out the burial of our little Becky, who never got the chance even to utter her first cry. Plus see to the care of our son David. I remember that on the holiday itself I took him to nearby Cumberland Mountain State Park, and we played on the playground equipment there. I even sang a couple of songs from "A Homestead Album", a musical in which I was cast, that was being performed that summer at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I sang a joyful song and even danced a lively dance with our son. But my heart was heavy. Death had struck just before Independence Day. . . .
There is an agitation in my memory-bank, that one of the Independence days I spent in San Antonio (A.D. 2002 to 2008) was likewise touched by a significant death. But who was it? At this point I cannot remember, and I most certainly don't fell right now like trying to dredge it up!
And now this! Steve McNair shot four times, twice in the head, twice in the chest, and a young woman at the scene shot once in the head. Police are speaking of a murder-suicide but not confirming it quite yet. I remember better days for McNair and this city that loved him. Especially the better days of the 1999-2000 season, when McNair quarterbacked the NFL Titans to the Super Bowl, and got us within one yard of winning it! I remember vividly to this day, how when the football team left Houston and came to Tennessee, my arms weren't open to warmly welcome them. I'd heard too many ugly things about owner Bud Adams from Houstonians. And so the first couple of years I was against the team. But when they had that stellar season in 1999 and went into the playoffs, with McNair, Frank Wychek, Eddie George and others enthralling Nashville fans, I too chose to consider that THIS was my hometown's team (granted, at the time I lived in nearby Clarksville, but the team IS the Tennessee Titans) and I needed to get with the program and get behind the guys. I came to esteem the names McNair, Wychek, George. . . and one Christian team member whose name escapes me but whose testimony to the priority of his faith OVER the sport still thrills me.
But NOW the great former quarterback is dead. On Sunday, aboard the bus on my way to church, I perused the Tennessean front page and a couple pages inside, about the tragedy. All my memories of my attitude turnaround in '99 awoke, along with my old esteem for McNair, Wychek, George and that Christian fella. It hardly helps that in 2008 upon moving to Nashville I took right up with my enthusiastic support for the Titans. Even tho' McNair had played two years with another NFL team, then last year retired and started up a restaurant near TSU here. And the current team had such a great '08 -- one I was certain would terminate in a Super Bowl victory, until they were beat at home in the first playoff game. I have to confess, that as I read the newspaper there on the bus my eyes teared up. My heart was heavy. Death had struck on Independence Day. . . .
Again. . . .