Thursday, July 03, 2008

4th of July: Somehow Wishing for More

Ever since I went away to college and didn't come home for the summer fourth of July has typically been a less then glamorous holiday. It wasn't as much that it was an amazing holiday at home, it was just there was a rhythm to the day. Usually time with family, fireworks in the evening.

I know for every reader of this blog, there is a different thought of what fourth of July means to you, whether your patriotic, in love with America, angry and bitter over current American foreign policy, or who cares because you get a day off work. Or maybe you live in Australia or Ghana and could care less about American Independence Day. Or maybe you want nothing else in this world but to eat an American flag cake made with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, and you can imagine no better way to celebrate American Independence.

It seems to me though, that beyond the family barbecues and the fireworks, there is something grander, bigger, more meaty that is missing, or maybe even deteriorating with the holiday.

Probably my favorite post-College fourth of July was one when my wife and I and our friends Jon & Grete took a trip to Granbury, Texas for Fourth of July where we got there ripe and early, watched their large parade filled with Shriner's, labor unions, marching bands, and gospel choirs. Later that day we watched an ice cream contest, drank the grosses water ever (the small towns water system stinks...literally), and laid out in the grass by Lake Granbury watching fireworks before getting on the congested roads to return home.

Yet, beyond that I can't think of a memorable fourth of July from the past 10 years (disclosure to friends and family: my apologies, if I am forgetting something amazing that we did together).

In fact, apart from a small town fourth of July experience three or so years ago, it all seems like a day that should be more, but really is just a day where we have to seek out an ideal fire works spot in the evening.

But like I prefaced at the beginning of the post, maybe for you fourth of July is something that you love celebrating. Maybe you have some amazing family traditions. Maybe you live in a small town for fourth of July is the rage. Maybe you put on the biggest neighborhood fireworks display every year and this year is bigger than ever. Or maybe there is a place in your heart that makes fourth of July a very special time for you.

And as I've begun reflecting on Independence Day this year, I'm saddened by my lack of "gusto" about the holiday, and really the lack of "gusto" of everyone else I encounter. If you're a Generation X, Y, or Z person you see the world in a different way then your parents and grandparents. The world is smaller, it's more accessible, and you might care about things like AIDS in Africa, or how Burma is dealing with the Tsunami and the military regime.

Caring about the world doesn't mean your less patriotic, but it may mean you aren't really reflecting on your own patriotic history very often. I know I don't. So when fourth of July springs up, I'm not really thinking about fourth of July until it gets here. Fourth of July isn't like Thanksgiving with a huge meal and family travels to prepare months/weeks/days in advance. And of course, it certainly isn't like Christmas.

In a world that's increasingly a lot less like Granbury, bigger and smaller all at the same time...and is far more individual and less communal...I feel like I need some prep-time to get in the fourth of July spirit. I need something more than a Google search to find out where a good firework watching sight is.

I wish fourth of July had more multi-day traditions to it then just fireworks. I wish that there was Charlie Brown specials (or great war movies, or PBS specials) that people would watch, or maybe at least fourth of July themed television specials. I wish more placed decorated for Fourth of July, and when I say I'd like to see decorations, I'm not just talking about red white and blue streamers and a sale sign outside of the furniture store. It's not commercialization that I want, it more reflection, more tradition. More of a "fourth of July season" if you will.

I think of the movie Born on the Fourth of July. Tom Cruises character loved Fourth of July, and yet as he became bitter about the Vietnam War and what America was doing, it did not cause him to loose his patriotism, it caused him to redirect it. If you're frustrated with things in America's political realm, maybe the fourth of July season is a time to do something about what's bothering you, maybe it's a time to right a congressman, blog your feelings, or rally with others who believe in your cause. Maybe there is a way to be "critically patriotic" and to use a "fourth of July season" to do so.

Maybe my experience is drastically different from yours, but it just seems to lack the spice and flavor that I imagine American Independence Day once had in the small cities of America.

How can that be rekindled? How can we rekindle it?
Or maybe you think it's fine. Tell me your thoughts, tell me your story.


Loren Eaton said...

Perhaps it can be rekindled precisely by having a bigger view of the world. I spent some time in Zimbabwe about a decade ago, and -- let me tell you -- with the comparison between their elections and ours, I'm very proud of America.

Anonymous said...

I remember my friends of my sisters that went to Viet Nam and came back so screwed up. I feel bad for them. Like a nighmare you cant wake from. My heart reaches out to them.

Aaron Turpen said...

Great post. I think that most Americans have become complacent with their patriotism and have allowed it to be replaced with empty phrases and chants. It's time to take our country back, remove the complacency, and boot out these entitlement politicians!

AK said...

All I know is that I CANNOT believe that you don't remember the Fourth of July spent stuffing our wedding invitations. That should make at least your top five. I'm just sayin'.

(By the way, we really did appreciate the help!)

general125 said...

4th of July has become over-commercialized like most other holidays in the world. The holiday is what you make of it.

Fly your American flag, read the declaration of independence or some other founding father's document, and be afraid to be proud of being an American. That's my 4th of July.

Dad said...

You could follow that link, gather your family and read U.S. history together. As I read it I realize how little I know about the founding of our country. Bono once said that America is not just a country it is an idea. I think that's what we're supposed to be celebrating. The amazing story of American independence. We forget that we are still a part of that story.

James (SeattleDad) said...

I grew up in a small (750) logging and farming town in rural Washington. We celebrated quite a bit for the 4th with our town hosting a celebration that would bring close to 10,000 people. We had raft races, parade, loggers jubilee, big fireworks. It was great and meant something to us.

Now, I live in the city and like you don't do much of anything for the holiday. Nothing planned for today, though Lukas is sick. I would love to see that sort of tradition come back into the holiday for me. Memories are great and I want that for my son as well.

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of my small hometown's 4th of July celebrations that featured Kansas' largest 4th of July parade, week-long carnival, antique car show, pancake feed, BBQ, Grandpa's corn on the cob, fireworks, and who could forget the annual local theatre production of "The Wizard of Oz." [although I'm not sure what Dorothy has to do with America's Freedom.]

I think there is something special about reflecting on America's founding in a small community.

Stew said...

I could only hope that apart from celebrating independence every fourth of July, there should also be causes to be endorsed to take advantage of mass support and awareness. Such as the cozaar prices to reach market stability for greater accessibility to those in need.