So, I feel like a kid on Christmas this morning. The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. And like Christmas, I have loved it in different ways for different reasons. When I was a kid I loved the parades and fireworks and pageantry. Now that I'm a little older, I love it because of what the day represents and what it means to me (although I still love the fun and the fireworks and, this will shock anyone familiar with my svelte physique--the food).
I got an email from a good friend this morning. He told me about how his great-grandparents came from Italy just 100 years ago. He's now a doctoral candidate at a prestigious university. He married a woman with ancestors who founded a city in NJ and fought in the Revolution. Their son is a glorious amalgam of all this and is neither English nor Italian but American.
I've been wondering why exactly I love this country so much, why it seems to be part of my soul. I love it like I love my family and my faith. There's a depth to it that defies my ability to articulate or quantify.
Part of it is because of the way I was raised. For exampled, the first time I heard my grandmother swear was during a church service one day. I was about 12 or so. The speaker mentioned that some schools weren't doing the Pledge of Allegiance anymore. Grandma turned to me and my cousins right there and asked if we did the Pledge at school. I think my cousins said they didn't, and that made her so mad she let a few choice words fly, loudly, right then and there. When I was younger, I thought that was funny and saw my Grandma's fierce patriotism as being over-the-top. One of many endearing but quirky characteristics. But then her brother had died storming Normandy, so she was invested in a way few today are. She had lived through the Depression and worked in a munitions base during WWII. So for her, these were not abstract feelings. Her life experiences had given form to her feelings providing a strong anchor for her strong feelings.
As I've grown older, my life experiences have given me the same grounding and my initial excitement about parades has mellowed and matured into a much deeper feeling. I was born into a family with a firm history of being in the middle class. My great-great grandparents moved to this country from Holland, following their encounter with Mormon missionaries. So, in one decision, I gained a new faith and a new country.
They came and started a new life and the country was good to them. They were able to live and survive and even prosper enough to attain a comfortable life--eventually joining what we call middle class these days. Same with the next three generations.
Still, while both sides of the family lived a comfortable life, there was not any kind of excess or surplus to pass on, and so each generation had to make it anew. And that is the case with my wife and I.
Our parents were generous to help us attend college as much as possible, but we're both the oldest of six and there were still a lot of needs at home. So ultimately, it fell to us. And through scholarships and part-time jobs and so on, we made it through three degrees.
I'm a school teacher and we live modestly, but reasonably well--we have a small house on a large lot in a beautiful part of the country. In the morning, I tend my garden. The corn is as high as an elephant's thigh, and hopefully it will keep going. The cucumbers and melons are thriving as well. There are apples on the trees--the first year the trees are big enough to bear, and I'm excited to taste them.
This country has been good to me. I've been able to attain a comfortable life for myself and my family. I'm able to do what I love to do and be compensated accordingly. The free market economy makes it possible to pursue a relatively specialized field and make a decent living. The free market economy also means that although I don't make a lot of money, my family can still live comfortably.
So, I go to work each day in a field of my choice, and then I come home and work my own land and grow my own food. In the evenings, I sit on my back deck and watch the sun set over the forest, and then watch the fireflies dance. I can sit, as George Washington noted, under my own vine and fig tree as it were. Most of all, we live in peace and plenty. We live away from fear and oppression.
Now, my children are beginning the process anew. My oldest two children just got jobs. Even in a recession, there are opportunities, and they are now beginning their participation in the American dream, which I define as the freedom to work for what you want without undue interference.
This is a wonderful land. I know it's not perfect, but that's never seemed all that compelling to me since there are no perfect choices.
I'm in love with this country. I love it for the opportunities it's provided for me and generations of my family. I love it for the freedom and safety it's provided to people around the world. I love it for still being a sanctuary and beacon for oppressed people all over the world.
I love the different people who are here and have gone through the melting pot like my friend's son--children of parents and grand-parents from all over the world. I love it that people are still willing to risk everything--literally everything--to come here and live their dreams.
America is a wonderful, blessed place. I've lived in the west and mid-west, in the north and south and I love the beauty of each pace as well as the people.
Happy birthday, America! I love you.
Now, for today, I thought I'd post two of my favorite songs. First, here is my favorite version of The Star-Spangled Banner. I will confess that I get choked up every time I hear it. Also, you might be interested in reading this account of the original Star-Spangled Banner. It was written by my friend, L. C. Lewis. She's a wonderful historical writer and wrote a compelling historical series about the war of 1812, when the national anthem was written. Check out her post, but you might want to check out her new book (which I'll be reviewing soon). Her last book, "Oh Say Can You See" was one of my favorite reads of last year.
Second is the Boston Pops performing "The Stars and Stripes Forever"
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
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