Why I Love the 4th of July

Why I Love the 4th of July July 5, 2010

I inevitably cry at small town parades. 

I don’t think anyone should mistake love of country for love of all decisions of its government or as a boast of all of its actions throughout history.  I don’t think anyone should mistake love of country for blind patriotism or jingoism.  There is so much more to a country–to any country–than a military or a flag.  There are its people, its landscape, and its unique history, of joy and idealism and hypocrisy and loss, all blended into one unique, unfinished story.

I love my country–not blindly, but deeply, and (I hope) well.

My own love of country is founded in the blue and rolling hills that bound my horizon, the murmur of the leaves of trees in the distance, old (and not so old) church ladies sharing pickle and pie recipes at a church social, small town high school bands, and the smell of a small swimming hole at midsummer.  It is the love of rivers, of sky, of wild things and of sun-baked city streets.

It also embraces the sweat and fear of a soldier in Vietnam, the agony of the slaves whose efforts built virtually all our civic monuments up until Emancipation, the horror of the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, and the triumphant, insistent moral courage of the civil rights movement.  It celebrates the fine day in May when Massachusetts recognized gay marriage, it grieves the deaths at Gettysburg, goes on trial with the Berrigan brothers, runs for president with Susan B. Anthony, and presses close, hushed and reverent, with the hundreds of emancipated slaves who met Lincoln as he toured Richmond, Virginia, during the last days of the Civil War.

That’s my patriotism.  I am neither proud to be an American nor ashamed to be one : I am humbled.  I am the heir of so much history, so much pain, and so much love.

May I be worthy of the struggle so far.

 Images: Aldermen in July 4th ParadeThe South Hero, Vermont 4th of July parade, July 4th 2000,  courtesy, Wikimedia Commons.

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