Today, the infrequent post-holiday Monday when most of the country doesn’t work, I’ve spent some extra time contemplating ideals like independence and freedom and patriotism. No, I haven’t crossed the Massachusetts border to New Hampshire to take advantage of tax-free shopping.
Many times as I watch fireworks, I find myself torn or even cynical toward values that make me love living in the USA, but sometimes exploit others, even other Americans. I’m mindful of the many people across the Americas who have made and still make sacrifices for those freedoms to continue: soldiers and veterans, native Americans, farmers in central America who provide produce and coffee and cheap labor, moms and dads who struggle to provide their kids with balanced meals and good education and quality time.
But freedom and independence are not synonyms.
Independence Day was instituted to mark independence from colonial rule, but it can sometimes be used as a celebration of individualism that is ignorant of humanity’s interconnectivity. The oil that continues to gush into the Gulf Coast waters is a daily reminder of our dependence on the earth’s resources and on each other to clean up the mess and prevent another such disaster. Like it or not, we’re in this together.
I spent the days leading up to the 4th of July, driving along the Maine coast, using plenty of gasoline, I might add. The scenery is quintessentially American — pine-lined cliffs jutting from icy blue water where whales come to summer. My husband and I hiked and camped and dug clams to steam for dinner, and by the time we had returned to our small Massachusetts town to watch fireworks explode above the hills of a former farm, I felt exceptionally warm and fuzzy toward the USA.
The hill was speckled with blankets, where friends and neighbors sat and oohed and aahed. My town is small enough that it didn’t take long before I spotted people I knew. The neighbors had warned me that no one drives to the fireworks, because afterward, the whole town walks back en masse.
At our best, Americans have a long history of walking together—the Poor People’s March of 1968, abolitionists who walked alongside escaping slaves along the Underground Railroad, suffragists and feminists, laborers.
When the grand finale finished, people picked up their blankets and headed for the street. Kids waved sparklers and glow sticks in the dark as thousands of us trekked together to our homes, along our little piece of America.
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