On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is a book I wish I had read long ago. First copyrighted in the year of America’s bicentennial, it is a gem for those who wish to communicate a clean, clear, inspiring message to readers. One particular passage from the book seems especially appropriate for this Independence Day.

Author William Zinsser devoted a chapter to writing about places. Authors often approach the subject from the standpoint of how the first-time visitor feels about the experience. The richer account, however, comes from those who live or work there every day, as they recount what attracts people to that place. Zinsser illustrates his point in this paragraph about Mount Rushmore, spoken through the words of a park ranger. Quoting from page 131 of the 25th anniversary issue:

“In the afternoon when the sunlight throws the shadows into that socket,” one of the rangers, Fred Banks, said, “you feel that the eyes of those four men are looking right at you, no matter where you move. They’re peering right into your mind, wondering what you’re thinking, making you feel guilty: ‘Are you doing your part?'”

Independence Day is a day of celebration. It is a day to remember those who did their part so long ago, so that we enjoy a way enjoy the freedom that is the envy of the world. It is also a day to ask ourselves a question, the same question Fred Banks sees in the eyes of those four figures every day. Are we doing our part? Are we giving at least as much as we are taking? What is it we do today that in some way is making tomorrows better for us and for those to come?

Happy Independence Day!