As a girl growing up in the heart of the Midwest, the Fourth of July primarily meant one thing to me: parade candy. The thrill of having to dart into the street dodging Clydesdale hooves and the ambulance that might have to be my ride if I risk my neck for that jumbo tootsie roll under its wheel. Boxing out and throwing bows if another kid tried to step to my zone. It was an adrenaline and sugar rush. Bring on the Fruities. Keep the old man hard candies. Thanks, no thanks. But as I have matured, the Fourth has meant so much more. Obviously, I am so thankful to live in this country, flaws and all. I am so grateful for the men and women who fought and died to ensure that I can speak and write and vote freely. I am blessed to know a handful of veterans who fought and came home--some of whom I’m sure are torn between the comfort of being home and what they know happened and still happens oceans away in their absence. I cannot fathom it, but I extend my gratitude all the same.