July 4 has always represented a national holiday which brought me great joy. This year’s will be even more special as it may be my last. You see, after five hours in the emergency room on Monday, I was told, “Mr. Mathews, if we have not caught this in time, people die from the infection you’ve developed.”
This was not a diagnosis I would have believed possible only eight days previously. Little more than a week ago, I had returned from hiking 50 miles through the Daniel Boone National Park with my twin sons among a group of 20 others.
I will not attempt to wax poetic in describing the wonders of nature we were blessed to behold during that trip. Respecting your time, all I will humbly request is someday you consider performing an internet search for the “Natural Arch” or “Yahoo Falls,” on in general “Danie Boone National Forest.”
Yet for all the splendor I experienced on the trip, what meant the most to me was the parental pride and joy of spending ten days with my sons. I am not a great outdoors man. I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, were we played baseball on the road in the summer and touch football in the fall. The closest I had ever come to hiking before my sons began scouting was traveling across the wide expanses of a large university called Penn State.
Compounding my lack of experience hiking and camping were two work injuries which left me with a permanent disability in one leg and limited mobility in one shoulder. As you might guess, my balance is poor on good days and comical on the bad ones. Still, five months of flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular training had left me in the best physical conditions of perhaps the last 20 years of my 53-year-long life.
I had truly prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Perhaps it was divine irony that our journey was rewarded with arguably as favorable conditions as we could hope for. The weather while seasonably hot and humid was manageable. Fortunately, after eight weeks of drought, the prior week had netted sufficient rainfall to provide us with adequate sources to filter drinking water. What I never anticipated was an infection occurring — an infection by an invisible bacteria transmitted by a nearly invisible insect bite.
In the hands of an author with superior skills in prose, my "bucket-list" final hiking experience with my Eagle Scout sons might have been presented as reflection on the trials and tribulations all will face in their journey through life. I will not attempt such a high level of articulation.
I cannot lie to you by pretending my own death does not terrify me. What I can tell you with conviction is: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness remain ideals worth dying for today just as they were in 1776.
Your future is based in a country which succeeded in securing its independence from the most powerful nation on Earth at the time. Your future is based on a nation which survived a Civil War and proved itself a beacon of strength during two World Wars. Your future will continue to be shaped by a nation attempting progress toward providing an equal opportunity for all in the “pursuit of happiness.”
As we prepare to celebrate our Independence Day, never lose sight of how many have paid the ultimate price to grant our nation the ability to achieve this truly American ideal. Perhaps no other freedom is more American than, “the pursuit of happiness.”
Please try to remember to celebrate that ideal in your journey through life today and always.
Peace be with you.