Letter: The Best Fourth Ever

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The streets were empty. The air was clean. The weather was tasty Laguna perfection. It was like 1960. Or last March. The usual tourist assault that starts early and goes late, with deafening traffic, noise and sunblock, was gone. It was delightful. Except for the exceptional swells that went unsurfed. Maybe there should have been a carve-out in the beach closure for the Brooks Street Surf Contest.

This Fourth of July was the year to actually ponder what it means to be free. Unlike our frontier days when we stood for freedom from restraint, we now know that freedom in a civilized world means acting in the collective good. Even if it means giving up our most bombastic party day of the year.

We also now know that real freedom has never included African or Native Americans, whose very freedom we stole. And that innocent immigrant children are languishing in cages.  And that even us—the very privileged white folks—are no longer free to enter other countries.

It’s hard to chant “We’re No. 1” anymore, unless we are counting infections, mass shootings, incarceration, obesity, drug addiction, racism, and okay, maybe customer service. It’s hard to fathom what we’ve become—so broken, divided, and malevolent. What will it take to heal us, to be loving of one another again?

We are going to need strength and perseverance in the coming months to gain control of this virus. We don’t have a national plan. The federal government has politicized the virus and failed its core obligation to keep us safe, abdicating to the states – with mostly bad results. Nearly half of our country doesn’t believe in science and doesn’t trust our government.

So on this very unique Fourth of July, we realized we don’t need to go big and frighten all the pets in Laguna. And blow up the sky to reenact a war, sending detritus into the sea. This was the year to go small, with a measure of restraint, humility and contemplation. This great land of freedom, opportunity and tolerance, this grand experiment that was hatched 200 years ago, is being severely tested at a time we should instead be leading the world in solutions. 2020 has given us the opportunity for clear visioning. Hopefully, we went dark on Independence Day because it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Billy Fried, Laguna Beach

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