A Happy 4th of July–Really!

I Hear America Singing
Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

I know we are supposed to bemoan this year’s landmark of the (announcing of ) the Declaration of Independence for its loss of our public celebrations, or worrying about people doing things to increase the number of COVID-19 cases, or castigating those who disagree with us. There is a lot of loss, of both jobs and of lives, in our country, right now, and I feel do bad about that. I grieve for the people I know who have lost loved ones, and try to support those I know who have lost livelihoods.

But that’s not my focus today. I’m not thinking this is a depressing holiday. Actually, I’m feeling like this may be one of my greatest 4th of July-ies ever.

Of course I miss my usual community traditions. In my case, it starts at noon putting my chair and cooler in line at the Koka Booth Amphitheater with a few of the vanguard of our spiritual center so that as soon as the gates open at 3:00 PM, we can rush in and throw down blankets for the dozens of people who will join us closer to the real showtime at 7:30, when the N.C. Symphony plays wonderful music until it is dark and the fireworks begin. We eat and drink and play games and enjoy each other’s company as well as the activities (although sometime when my son and husband don’t want to come, I just do the first part and go home before the activities start to have an evening cookout with them). It won’t be the same just staying at home for the 4th.

Still, to me what is really important about the 4th of July isn’t the trappings of the holiday–the food and the fellowship and the fun and the fireworks. What is really important, in my opinion, is celebrating the concept of the US as contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and renewing our commitment towards those ideals. And if that is what the 4th of July means to you, then this could be a great holiday for you as well.

I was out early this morning, getting some final items for our 4th of July menu. As I drove to the store, in our neighborhood it seemed most of the yards were decorated with flags:

Or with signs with affirming messages:

Or both:

When I got to the store, everyone was wearing masks. That has generally been my experience at most of the (few) public places I’ve been to in my community over the past couple of weeks. When people are out walking in open areas, they don’t, but when they are going into areas where they know they will be close to others, most people I see are wearing masks.

As I drove home, it struck me that those are all symbols of a vision for our shared country. The flag represents how we’ve grown from the original 13 states to a total of 50, and for almost 250 years, we’ve managed to keep our country united, despite some SERIOUS challenges. The signs communicate caring and connection for all, including to those whose rights were left out of our original documents….you know, like Black people and WOMEN and other ethnic immigrants, let alone those of different sexual orientation. Even the masks represent our responsibility to community, since most of us have masks that don’t really protect our health–they protect the health of the people we pass. For me, every mask I saw was a silent message that all these people I don’t even know care enough about me to inconvenience themselves for my benefit. Wearing masks these days is philosophy’s “Social Contract” in action.

Many of the news articles we read or shows we watch seem to communicate that we are more deeply divided than we ever were. But that simple trip this morning made me think the opposite is true. I think, in many ways, the PEOPLE are more united than ever. The politicians…maybe not so much.

I’ve only been to one protest march in my community in support for the Black Lives Matter cause. At least when I was there (I just came at the start but didn’t march because my asthma was acting up and I didn’t want to walk with a mask on), the group was OVERWHELMINGLY white–both in skin tone and hair color. The few college-age students I saw were there with their parents. It was a sedate and orderly crew, carefully maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from each other and wearing masks. So, it was not exactly the scenario you see on TV.

Even so, I thought it was SO great. To me it showed that this isn’t just a movement of Black people, or of young people, or of “radical” people. Even an older, more conservative, family-oriented, predominantly Caucasian community like mine had a substantial number of people who felt compelled to come out on a steamy Saturday to stand up for social justice in our country.

Polls tell us that the majority of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. Polls tell us that the majority of Americans are concerned about inappropriate Police violence, particularly regarding Black and other minorities, but also against everyone (just this morning two police officers were charged with murder for using Tasers on a white man 50 times–a total of 4+ minutes as he laid on the ground–before he died. As with many other cases, it took a year for these charges to be filed). Polls tell us that the majority of Americans are concerned about COVID-19 and believe in wearing masks to slow the spread of disease. Polls tell us that the majority of people support finding a solution for the Dreamers, support maintaining Obamacare, and support increased mail-in voting. In many ways, the people are more unified on a lot of major issues than they have been in quite a while.

I grew up outside of Washington DC, so I’m more politically-inclined than many of my friends. I have to admit that I can easily get sucked into being judgmental about groups of people with whom I disagree politically. But today I chose to look beyond politics and beyond parties and beyond the stories of division in the media. Today, I just saw a bunch of Americans all expressing a love for our country…and for each other, regardless of our differences.

So tomorrow, instead of my usual tradition, instead of concerts and cookouts and friends and fireworks, I am celebrating America and our ideals by staying home with my family and watching the broadcast of HAMILTON: THE MUSICAL (I signed up on Disney+ today for this month JUST so we could watch this). This is not a radical change for us; before our concert/fireworks tradition consumed almost the entire day, we used to watch the musical of 1776 each Independence Day.

However, HAMILTON is the perfect 4th of July show for our times. It’s a brilliant piece of musical theater that is very true to historical facts. Plus, it incorporates elements of hip-hop, R&B, and soul music into the soundtrack, and tells the story of the only Caribbean-born Founding Father. Perhaps most importantly of all is that it features a multi-cultural cast to play all of those white male icons of our first years as a nation.

This, to me, is the greatest thing about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece. He is making the point that the American Revolution and early Federalist period are NOT just a white male story. It is an AMERICAN story, to be shared equally by ALL Americans. It is an African-American story, a Latinx-American story, an Asian-American story, a Middle-eastern American story, even a Cherokee- or Lakota- or Navaho- or Hawaiian-American story. It’s a female story, a gay story, a trans story, and a story of every other category of Americans who haven’t seen themselves in the history books. Because it is really a story of the concept of America–the American ideals, the American vision, which were formulated, but not achieved in totality back then. If we are ever to fulfill that story, it will take all of today’s Americans, regardless of whatever category we claim as part of our identity.

My plan for tomorrow is to first go to our local Farmers Market to buy next week’s fresh food. Then I will fix a lunch of a variety of appetizers brought to this land by immigrants (including black bean quesadillas, samosas, hummus with vegetables, and spanakopita) to eat as we watch HAMILTON. Later, we will grill hamburgers (my son’s request, because it’s not just about me), which I will serve with such native American sides as corn, tomatoes, and blueberries. Then, for a virtual substitute for our usual tradition, at 8:00 PM Eastern time I will watch online “A Capitol Fourth” with the National Symphony (among other performers), followed by a firework show accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” 

I, too, hear America singing. But tomorrow, it may sound a lot like rap.

One thought on “A Happy 4th of July–Really!

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