I did not grow up with an appreciation for our country. My family was not patriotic in any way. In fact, we were probably a little anti-patriotic. Although my parents were too old to really be part of the counter culture, they both cared about issues of social justice and fairness, and in those days, the Left did not embrace the flag.
It wasn’t until I worked for a pro-immigration advocacy organization that I began to understand and appreciate the great privilege it is to live in this country, and the great lengths to which people from all over the world will go to come here and try to build a life here.
During the time I was in that job, our own world came toppling down, and 9/11 was a moment where everyone, no matter their political stripes, believed in America. It was the moment when the Democrats reclaimed the flag as a powerful symbol of what it means to care about your country in a way that mirrors my own upbringing – with a deep devotion to equality and justice for all.
In my next job, I had a co-worker from England who became a citizen, and I went to his naturalization ceremony. Over 800 people from all over the world had their names called out as they intoned the pledge of allegiance to this nation. And just last month, I attended my son’s high school graduation ceremony where over 700 teens took their place in the world as young adults – with well over half of the graduates bearing names from foreign countries.
This is a great country. We are so fortunate to be a nation of immigrants, to be a safe haven, and to be the world’s largest democracy. We are lucky to have freedom of choice in terms of where we live, how we pray, where we send our children to school, how we dress, eat, and live our lives. Yes, there are many problems, not the least of which is the enormous divide between wealth and poverty. But the hope and the promise is ever there – the opportunity to do better, rise up, become successful, and live a good life.
I love July 4th. I love my neighborhood’s funny, homespun parade, where local county politicians mix with neighborhood floats and 9/11 conspiracy theorists and Trindadian steel drums and marching bands and attachment parenting floats and the local pool kids marching. I love feeling like I belong here, that I’m part of something bigger than I am, and that we’re all part of a community.
I also love that we have friends who every year have a July 4th bbq that is not complete until we have read the Declaration of Independence out loud. When you hear the words of our founding fathers today, they still ring clear and true – that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It gives me chills every time I hear it. For what are we, if not a democracy that is constantly working to improve itself and live up the ideals of its founders?
My oldest child went down to the National Mall tonight for the fireworks display down there. All these years we have lived a stone’s throw from the nation’s fireworks display, and we’ve never gone with our kids. Too crowded, too hot. But I am glad he went. He will see the fireworks light up the dome of the Capitol building.
It’s a reminder. For this one day, we forget the partisan rancor of our government. For this one day, we all celebrate our freedom from tyranny, our liberation from the yoke of a government that did not have our best interests in mind. For this one day, we can all take pride in being part of the great experiment that is America.
After we read the Declaration of Independence at our bbq, we go out to the front of our friends’ house and set off small fireworks in the street. When all our kids were young, we named each firework after a kid, with an alliterative name (Michael’s Magic Firecracker!)
Today, there are almost no children at our party anymore – they are all away at camp, and some are already living away from home. It’s back to the adults. And I have to admit, we love having the fireworks display named in our honor again – it feels like a tribute to our children, and our families, and our pride in our country.
We can only hope that our kids will remember our wonderful July 4th celebrations for years to come, and will remember the lessons of the day. We are all equal. We are all one. We are all free.
Happy Independence Day.
Photo by buggolo via Flickr