A funny idea of Independence.
I can just see the shimmer of pirate fireworks going off across Western Avenue through my office window; there are explosions in the distance from every direction.
Our festivities are long over for the day: We gathered to eat, drink, and sweat through our clothes with family — responsibly distanced and all, of course.
I did the dishes when I got home, having dirtied nearly every bowl and utensil mixing up creamy, lime-spiked esquites and Thai-inspired honeydew salad dressed with mint and cilantro and peanuts and fish sauce. (My attempt to honor, culinarily, our country’s cultural tapestry in the face of a whitewashed holiday.)
I dried my hands and went to replace the paper towels with a new roll. I held the cardboard tube up to my eye and looked through, playfully, but not long enough to play at envisioning, childlike, a different world on the opposite end.
My capacity for that kind of imagination has evaporated lately.
The 4th of July has never really been my holiday
The 4th of July has never really been my holiday — I think I sensed our national brokenness (and willful ignorance to it) for far longer than I’ve understood it academically.
But this is the first time I can remember being wistful for a time when I didn’t feel the cracks to my core.
When I could sing the Star-Spangled Banner with conviction, when I didn’t cringe every time I saw a flag rippling in someone’s front yard. When I didn’t feel a visceral, physical shame about my identity as an American.
We celebrate with blithe barbecues. We yell “‘MURICA!!!” as we pound more beers from a can printed in red, white, and blue.
The left-leaning among us joke today that “ALL COUNTRIES MATTER,” which is funny until it’s not. (That doesn’t take long.)
John Philip Sousa marches blaring, tuba-forward, in the background, we cheer for fireworks that trigger the barely latent PTSD in veterans we don’t deign to take care of after they return home.
We use the cherry bombs and bottle rockets we hear fired off in alleys as an excuse to call the cops on another Brown or Black nuisance, faceless and unseen until they become another hashtag we Instagram about until the next news cycle.
Ugh, America, you’re gross.
Ugh, America, you’re gross. And you’ve got a funny idea of Independence. Liberty. Justice for all.
You are a wayward child with so, so much to learn, even at 244 years old.
You hold in you the potential to be even more than your narrow-minded, White, male Founding Fathers set out for you to be. (Those documents need a revision.)
I won’t be around to see you reach that potential — and maybe that’s the whole thing about potential; can you ever really reach it? Or, when you do, do you keep striving for something beyond it? Is there new potential? A more perfect union?
I won’t be here to see it, whatever it looks like, but I can be part of pushing to get you there.
And maybe someday…
And maybe someday I’ll feel a renewed surge of patriotism that’s currently buried in the memories of those bunting-draped before-times holidays, preserved in an resin of powdered Country Time lemonade concentrate and melted popsicle.
Running barefoot in the driveway, dancing with a sparkler in each hand, barrette bows clipped into my hair.
Sitting on the banks of the Missouri River, gravel under our folding chairs, watching Kansas City’s fireworks explode almost directly overhead. A family friend’s toddler — now a grown man — scared to death, wearing an oversized pair of headphones over his white-blond hair to dull the noise.
Eating Johnsonville brats boiled in beer, finished on the gas grill for a satisfyingly snappy skin. Watermelon and potato chips and strawberry shortcake from scratch.
Driving to the stuffy fireworks tent on the other side of the highway, in the Kansas county where selling them were legal. My mother, a once-a-year pyromaniac in her own right, dropping hundreds on explosives that would leave black rings on our driveway for weeks.
Sprawling, canoodling with my new boyfriend, Mark, on a blanket in Winnemac Park in summer 2012. Never minding the sweat or the bugs or our noisy blanket neighbors as night fell around us and we settled in for our first in a lifetime of fireworks shows together.
Cheering as a friend and his now-departed father, with the help of said friend’s sons and a crew of squirrelly neighborhood boys, rode up in a tractor to announce the start of the annual fireworks show. The theme: Safety Third.
Maybe someday we won’t celebrate the 4th of July at all, but a different holiday commemorating when we finally got our shit together.
Maybe there won’t be fireworks.
Maybe we’ll even salute a different flag, one redesigned to represent who we are now, together.
I hope there will still be bratwurst and burgers and watermelon and lemonade and corn on the cob and maybe even a little too much wine. And people I love and reasons to smile.
Maybe someday, America.
Some day you will blow us all away.
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