Looking around at the folks gathered at a good friend's home for a potluck dinner and a clear view of the fireworks on Independence Day, the inevitable question arrived:
What would our Founding Mothers and Fathers think of this day, this celebration of their country?
Would they recognize our world - would they see in us the lives they envisioned when they faced an empire and said no, we will not be ruled. We will govern.
The term "Founding Fathers" is volleyed around with deceptive authority and ease. Given the intellectual, economic and philosophical diversity among the people who came together under common cause against the British, it's possible to find rhetorical backup for almost any political position today.
The Founding Fathers weren't of one mind, one vision for the nation they were starting on a continent already populated. America didn't rise up on a blank slate of geography, it was pieced together and shaped by trade, culture and ideas borrowed from Indian nations and around the globe.
And the United States' founders weren't all fathers. Women like Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren are usually left out of the capital-F "Founders" but their wisdom, perseverance and clear vision for an independent nation our country - our Constitution - were elemental.
Our own political discourse is so oppositional that the Founders are invoked more in the pursuit of ideological righteousness than life, liberty or happiness. They're trotted out to bolster a point, like God at a football game.
There is no way to know, for certain, what any person from the past would think or say today. That doesn't stop people from stating as a truth that Important Historical Figure would have thought Thus and Such about this Important Issue, but such pronouncements must be taken as what they are - speculation. Well-educated speculation, perhaps, but at root still a presumption.
And the exercise limits our understanding of history. I'm more interested in how these Americans would experience our world, were they alive today.
We'll never know, for example, what Samuel Adams would think about Twitter. The Committees of Correspondence lacked the instantaneous nature of our technology that allows us to launch unformed ideas into the world.
What would John Adams, a no-nonsense Yankee, think about the ways we've used time, money and ingenuity to make our lives easier.
Imagine what he'd think of the Clapper ("Clap On. Clap Off. The CLAPPER") - a device used, in most cases, to "fix" the modern problems created by the convenience of indoor electricity (thanks, Ben Franklin).
Are we really so lazy we need to applaud our appliances on and off?
And would Franklin, a known beer appreciator, pick up a six of Samuel Adams Boston Lager on the way home - or would he be a Hamm's man.
Dos Equis Special Lager, maybe.
No, no, Ben would order a bottle of Bohemia beer. More fitting his personality.
What would Samuel Adams' fellow Declaration of Independence signers think about him being best known today not for his considerable contribution to the founding of these United States, but as the "brewer and patriot" pictured on the beer label?
I would like to think the United States is better than the founders could have imagined. It certainly is in some ways - we're more diverse racially, ethnically, religiously and culturally than ever before.
Yet many Americans are still struggling against an empire, though one more corporate than imperial, and the economic gap between rich and poor remains pernicious. We have work to do.
One of the most substantial gifts the founders gave us is the American capacity for imagination on a grand scale, the ability to see - and make - a better future.
So let's use it.
Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at email@example.com