The Fourth, and Becoming What We Said We Would Be
The old ranch house, July 2022
Ours is not a particularly patriotic clan. We are not a particularly Christian family either, though we count some of each in our ranks, and have no quarrel with patriots or believers.
This year, several among our younger members have remarked they do not feel there is much to celebrate. The anguish over the Dobbs ruling in particular strikes deep for us, as it may for you; the sense is palpable that the autonomy and independence of women is under threat as rarely before.
However diffident and different our views on other matters, we are almost all ardently and emphatically pro-choice on abortion. We also ARE big on decorating for the season.
The ranch rule: American flags and bunting should be as liberally distributed in the week leading up to Independence Day as holly and mistletoe in the days leading up to Christmas. We do this regardless of the state of the nation, and without taking the temporary temperature of our own feelings about the Republic.
We welcome Peter Cottontail each Easter, but do not associate his happy, sugary arrival with the Resurrection.
We delight in the Thanksgiving feast each November without adding our names to the Mayflower Compact.
The Jewish side of the clan lights the Menorah each December, even if we think the Seleucids were more “our kind of people” than the Maccabees.
And each early July, we festoon ourselves and the property in the colors of the flag, and we recount stories of our ancestors who fought in the Revolution, and I try yet again unsuccessfully to get everyone to sing “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.”
Delight in tradition is not the same as assent to all that those traditions represent. It is neither embrace nor rejection: it is celebration for celebration’s sake. It welcomes both the ardent jingoist and the anguished critic to the party. Whatever your views on the 246-year-old, fragile, and contentious American experiment, may you have a very happy and joyous Fourth.
In 1986, the late poet laureate Richard Wilbur wrote a long commission for the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty. These lines come back to me each Independence Day:
"From all that has shamed us, what can we salvage?
Be proud at least that we know we were wrong,
That we need not lie, that our books are open.
Praise to this land for our power to change it,
To confess our misdoings, to mend what we can,
To learn what we mean and make it the law,
To become what we said we were going to be.
Praise to our peoples, who came as strangers,
Praise to this land that its most oppressed
Have marched in peace from the dark of the past
To speak in our time and in Washington’s shadow,
Their invincible hope to be free at last."