Americans celebrate the Fourth of July in many ways, for many reasons. Parades, fireworks, barbecues, family outings, sporting events, concerts etc. give voice to the gratitude of all, celebrating America and its many meanings as well. But what it celebrates most is the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms we cherish because of it and the vision of our Founding Fathers.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” sing in chorus in the soul of every American. In this land of freedom, such dream-words are there for anyone’s taking. Their challenge is at the heart of our nation’s short history and will ever be. America and freedom are synonyms known around the world. And on the Fourth, the sound of celebration that reverberates most is all about both, but especially freedom, which for too many in other places is a fairy-tale word.

In our land freedom is an easy concept to sell. However, it comes with terrible responsibilities for those who buy and believe in it. In this post-9/11 world, every American has to be aware of just how precious – and vulnerable – freedom is, and how strong America needs to be to nurture and protect it.

As individuals, Americans, all, need to realize that freedom is not an ice cream cone but a union card that says we have to work for it, that freedom does not come easy and is weighted with both challenge and responsibility to make the most of self, respect others and help to shape a better world. In all three venues there is much to do.

Individuals must stop looking for excuses for coming up short of their potential or believing that the system works against them. Freedom and self may partner in growth, but it is self that has to find freedom to do the growing.

Respect for others means more than giving nod to the belief that all are created equal. Confronting prejudice by accepting and embracing differences in others is merely a starting point. Working together to fulfill the dream-words can only move America closer to “getting it right.”

When that happens, the world cannot help but see and want what America – and Americans – have achieved. And then that fairy-tale word may become real for others less fortunate than ourselves.

The Fourth of July may be party-time for Americans but it is also a time of renewed resolution. Freedom, despite its abuses, is our nation’s greatest strength. As an “inalienable right,” it offers every American, as it should for everyone, the power to help fulfill the still-young dreams of 1776.