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A Promise for a Better Life

A Promise for a Better Life

By Maria Shriver
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Happy Fourth of July weekend.

How are you feeling as we approach this holiday? How are you feeling deep within—in your heart, in your mind, in your bones? Are you in a celebratory mood and surrounded by friends and family? Or are you struggling to find your happy place? Do you feel like a party pooper at the freedom celebration? Or are you able to put the news aside and have fun anyway?

On this holiday weekend, I feel a lot of different things. First and foremost, I feel grateful for my family. I try to start every single day expressing gratitude for my children and my family, and I never take their health or presence for granted. I also feel a deep love for my country. I’ve always been a proud American. I’ve always believed in the promise of this nation, and I feel blessed that I was born here and that I live here. I truly do. That said, it feels somewhat tone deaf to me to celebrate freedom, equality, or being united in the United States of America on this Fourth of July weekend.

The spiritual teacher Byron Katie (whom I adore) once said, “When you argue with reality, you lose—but only 100 percent of the time.” I love this quote because it’s so true. I have often argued with reality in my life, and I’ve always dug myself deeper into a hole when I did. That’s why I make a big effort these days to get grounded in reality. Grounded in my body and in my truth. It’s way better for me mentally and emotionally to look at the truth and accept it for what it is, rather than try and spin a story that my mind comes up with. And the truth is this: many of our fellow citizens are hurting this holiday weekend. They don’t feel free. They don’t feel equal. They don’t feel hopeful when they look ahead. And, for sure, they don’t feel united.

Today, the United States is not united. It just isn’t. Now, maybe you are fine with that. Some even suggest it’s a good thing. But I am troubled by how divided we are. All this division—all this debate about your rights vs. my rights and your state’s rights vs. my state’s rights—well, it makes me feel like we are living in a bunch of little countries occupying the same great big piece of land. It feels like we are refusing to find common ground.

What’s united about us if every state does its own thing? What makes us one nation if every state makes its own laws, develops its own tax structure, says who can and who cannot have an abortion, and who can and who cannot openly carry a gun?

States’ rights is the phrase du jour. States have always had their own rights, but there has also always been a federal set of rights that went across borders to tie us together. Growing up, I felt that people proudly proclaimed they were Americans. Today, I hear people describe themselves more by the state they live in or the party they represent.

The question of this moment is this: what ties us together today? More and more, I hear people say, “I’m a southerner” or “I’m a Texan.” “I’m a Californian.” “I’m a conservative.” “I’m a progressive.” Rarely do I hear anyone just say “I’m an American” anymore.

This weekend, we are supposed to be celebrating being an American and living in the greatest democracy ever conceived. That’s why it’s as good a moment as any to reflect on what that means to you, regardless of which state you live in.

What are you celebrating today? What ideals and values do you hold sacred? When you hear conversations about our democracy being in trouble, what does that mean to you? Do you believe in the united part? Are you willing to compromise to get united? Can you accept the reality of where we are and what might have to change to get united? Or do you simply want to focus on your own state’s tax laws, gun laws, and abortion laws?

This past week, so many people asked me, "What are we going to do? What should we be doing? Is there hope?" I hear people say how angry they are and how sad, scared, and hopeless they feel.

I have a tradition on my own birthday each year. I reflect on where I am and where I’m going. I take a hard, honest look at myself—what I’m doing, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I close my eyes and project myself forward 10 or 15 years. I try to envision myself in that place, and then I try to make decisions in my life to get me to that place.

That might be an exercise we should all do together on our nation’s birthday. So, close your eyes and imagine the country you want to live in 10 years from now. Do you want that country to have a free press? Do you want that country to have free and safe elections, ones in which everyone can participate? Do you want to freely be able to practice your religion, or if you so choose not to have a religion at all, do you want that to be OK too? Do you want everyone to be able to walk down the street openly carrying a gun? Do you want schools that have armed guards? Do you want people in some states paying no taxes and in other states paying a lot? Do you want a country governed by the people, for the people? Do you envision a strong, safe, and reformed police force, one that is conscious and fair? Do you want a country that treats people of all genders and races equally, or do you envision living in a country where certain people have more rights than others based on their gender or color of their skin? Do you want a country where every child is born into the arms of someone who desperately wants them? Do you want to live in a country that prioritizes your safety and that makes you feel seen?

It’s time to think hard about your answers to these questions, because the country we will live in 10 years from now depends on what we envision today for tomorrow.

As for me, I want to live in a United States of America. I view myself first and foremost as an American. I may live in California, but I also live in America and I’m an American. I live in a country that so many desperately want to live in because of its promise for a better life. But its promise is in danger of being broken unless we, the People, uphold it. Unless we, the People, look within and see that our country is bigger than any one state or political party. That’s what a young woman named Cassidy Hutchinson did this week when she took an oath and stood up to tell the truth about her time in Trump’s White House. She did it at great personal risk to herself, but she did it for her country.

My fellow Americans, we have got to pull ourselves together and put our country first. Not our state first. Not our political party first. Our country first. Otherwise, we won’t have one to hand over to our children.

In a speech this week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Congresswoman Liz Cheney cautioned her fellow Republicans: “We have to choose because Republicans cannot both be loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution.”

Amen to that. We need a healthy democracy in our country. We need two healthy parties (or maybe even three) that have principles and values that are rooted in reality. It’s critical to our future. We won’t be able to celebrate our freedom if we fall into state squabbles, which will ruin us all.

The truth is that we can no longer argue with reality. We lose when we do. And the truth is that there appears to be different versions of reality on display at the moment. The one that wins out will be the one that determines the future of our country.

That’s where we are in 2022. We are left wondering if being united is more important than being divided. I hope you feel it is. I hope you will do all you can to make it so.

That starts with voting. It’s a right given to you. It’s your single greatest power. It’s how you use your voice. It’s what makes the biggest difference. If you don’t like where we are, vote like your future depends on it. Trust me, it does.

Happy Fourth of July.

Love, Maria

Prayer of the Week

Dear God, during this time of reflection and celebration, let me find hope for our future. Show me the light of hope that lies ahead. Give me the eyes to see a beautiful future and the strength to create it. Amen.