Watching the fireworks from our home on July 4th this year was a surprisingly good metaphor for what feels like the current state of our country.
The first Independence Day after we moved to Denver nine years ago, I was startled and delighted and amazed to see the whole sky (well, about 230 degrees of horizontal arc) filled with fireworks. From one window we could see our local display in Highlands Ranch, from another we could see two different displays in Denver, and straight west, there were three or four towns in the foothills and up toward the mountains that sparkled with red and gold and white and green explosions. This year, we could still see most of the Highlands Ranch extravaganza by standing on tip-toe, pressing our faces to the window and peering to the south, the Denver displays consisted of the tops of the occasional huge blossom, to the north. And anything happening in the towns to our west was invisible. Because, of course, during those nine years the trees have grown steadily; new buildings have risen; lines of sight are much shorter.
It replicates pretty exactly my experience of the way our country has been functioning lately: I have to squint pretty intently through the branches to catch occasional glimpses of the bright hopes, the sparkles of democratic exchange, the beauty of a nation that has been served in war and peace by at least five men in uniform from three generations of my extended family. I say this not to suggest that I have given up on us, nor because I don’t love this country. Even in its current state, living abroad for awhile (actually living, not visiting) will cause you to look at the United States with more appreciative eyes. We have a lot going for us, given that we are only 238 years old. However, a substantial number of us, including a huge percentage of the folks who consider themselves ‘leaders’ are behaving in very unlikable ways lately and, therefore, we have a lot we can improve, too.
Which brings me to the strange fact that I’m not all that sure I understand what we are celebrating when we celebrate Independence Day. Yes, I know why it is a national holiday; I know its historical significance. But what are we (you and I, American citizens in 2014) actually honoring or giving worth to with parades and fireworks and potato salad by the gallon? What does it mean to us inside? What value does it hold for us as individuals and communities in what is arguably the largest and longest experiment of a democratic republic in history? I’m not asking, What did it mean for some other people in some other generation. I’m asking, Why do we care? Right here, right now. Do we care? Is there anything we aspire to be and to become as a nation?
One of the advantages to having a blog is that you get to answer your own questions. So, while I can’t speak for anyone else, I would suggest that maybe we could begin by paying a little less attention to notions of ‘independence’ and spend a little more time on the principles of the common good, because in those principles are, I believe, a whole panoply of things that are really really worth celebrating about this country.
So, here is why I care:
…because over many generations, in spite of appalling prejudice, disrespect, and injustice, we have clung tenaciously to our identity as a nation of diverse populations. We have stumbled mightily. We have enslaved some folks; we have dispossessed others. We have interned our own citizens. But through it all, we continue to stagger toward inclusion and justice for all.
…because we are willing to wrestle mightily (and publicly) with issues that many other nations deny or ignore or decide by the fiat of some small group of the powerful.
…because however shrill the rhetoric, we continue to believe in the freedom of thought and to manifest that in a literate populace, a public library system, and some of the finest universities and research institutions in the world.
…because we keep trying to make a difference in the world. We sometimes manage this with grace. Other times we are tactless, self-righteous, and heavy-handed, but the belief that things can and should be better is somehow imprinted in our DNA.
…because we manage to drag ourselves kicking and screaming into caring for each other. Over time we have ended slavery, built a system of public schools, eliminated child labor, instituted safer workplaces, cleaned up polluted rivers and land, passed social security as a safety net for the needy, established the opportunity for better and more universal health care. Are we done? Not by a long shot, but we are moving forward.
…because we aren’t independent, we need one another. We need the very best of each other: the most creative ideas, the deepest compassion, the broadest tolerance, the highest visions.
And in honor of those things – however imperfectly realized – I commit to celebrating next July 4th in a different emotional place. Between now and then, I am committing to cutting down some of the internal trees that are getting in the way of me seeing your sparkles. I am committing to entertaining the notion that if something is good for you, it just might be good for me, too. I am committing to opening the conversation with people whose principles I confess I don’t begin to understand.
Because if I am not willing (me, personally, with intention, today) to nurture a good we can share – a common good – who do I think will be? And when do I think it will happen?
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2012, Immram Chara, LLC
(The Justice Light image is available as a card or print from my Etsy shop.)
You will notice that there is a mailing list form in the sidebar. Please sign-up for blogs, notification of new fiber pieces and cards, seasonal changes. If you only want to receive some of these, contact me and let me know which. I don’t like my inbox overflowing, so I assume you don’t want yours overflowing, either.