Family members live farther apart these days, depending on where they find jobs, or who they marry, or maybe just because they liked the weather better somewhere else. It’s hard to get together for celebrations, and the less we get together, the greater the loss of family traditions. It was always a tradition in my family for everyone to gather at my grandparents’ house for the Fourth of July clambake and barbecue. Since all my family members lived within a 20-mile radius, this was not difficult to achieve. Every year my family members would circle the date in red on the calendars hanging next to the wall phone in the kitchen. It was important to be together and celebrate the miracle of government by the people and for the people. It was always a lot more than just a number circled on a calendar.
I think of other people and their Fourth of July celebrations. I think of the special Fourths celebrated by the POWs from Vietnam that I treated as an army nurse in the ’70s. I think of every family whose son or daughter has returned home after service and what wonderful Fourth of Julys they had.
I think of those who take flowers to graves on the Fourth of July, and I wonder if they know their pain is never far from our national conscience. No sacrifice made or endured for America is ever done in vain.
I think of the tough Fourth of Julys our country has had in the past. Like the ones we had around 1786, when the issue of whether or not to assist France with their revolution nearly split our baby government. And I think of the wonderful Fourth of July we must’ve had the year the Statue of Liberty, one of our dearest national symbols, was finished and unveiled for our centennial.
I think of the Fourth before our Civil War and the irony of celebrating the freedom we denied to our brethren. My only comfort is a quote from Maya Angelou. “When you know better, you do better.” When we knew better as a nation, we did do better. The blood spilled from Pennsylvania to Georgia was our penance.
I think of the Fourth of July that came after 9/11. What a bittersweet and important celebration it was. It reaffirmed what I’ve always told my daughter when she expressed worry about the U.S. being too full of factions. It might seem like we are a nation of grumbling individuals, but when threatened, no country closes ranks quicker and stands shoulder-to-shoulder tighter than Americans. I recall that after 9/11, there was not a single crime reported in New York City for something like nine days. Even the criminals were patriotic.
With the increasing instability in the Middle East again, we once more have that sinking feeling of being pulled into a fight that’s not ours, other than protecting big oil interests, we don’t have a dog in this fight. Once again, we will wait and see what’s asked of us this time.
But like Americans past, we can’t ever let current events dampen our Fourth of July. However imperfect our government always seems to be, we are a fair and generous people. On a day-to-day basis, we do make an effort to be kind and considerate of our neighbors. Being civil and civilized to eone another still matters. Supporting our troops is a new national practice we’ve learned from the lessons of Vietnam, because when we know better, we do better.
The Fourth of July is still just a number in a square on a calendar surrounded by a circle. Make a plan to celebrate it. Celebrate the government by the people and for the people. It’s not always perfect, but to have lasted us 238 years, it must be doing something right. All things considered, it’s still a privilege and a joy to be an American.