Good Bless America

I love celebrating Independence Day. I’m grateful to live in this country, grateful for the freedoms we often take for granted. I plant my Independence Day petunias (red, white, and purple, but who’s quibbling?) and stick a little flag in the flower pot by my front door. My husband and I used to ride our bikes to the town center to watch the parade and later, the fireworks; now my sister and I continue the tradition. If I’m not invited to a barbecue—and my next door neighbors often oblige—I hold one and pull together various permanent and temporary singles in my neighborhood.

I like to display the flag on special occasions. I’m very mindful of the proper way to fold a full-sized flag and how to treat it in bad weather, which is to bring it in. I wouldn’t dream of cutting or burning a flag or turning it into a shirt or a summer dress. I also know what a flag is and what it isn’t: a symbol of pride but not of ostentatiousness, an act of commemoration, perhaps, but not an act of defiance. On various occasions and perhaps never more in my lifetime than after 9/11, the flag has been something of a catch-all: a symbol of patriotism and also xenophobia, a badge of honor but also a judgment—you’re either with us or against us. Obama was called out for not wearing a flag pin during his campaign and so was I for not displaying the American flag following my husband’s death on 9/11. You of all people, I was told, but I couldn’t see hoisting a flag that had become so fraught with anger, fear, expectation, judgment and, at times, yes, hypocrisy—an excuse to stifle freedom of speech or throw around accusations of treason or paste a decal on the back of a gas-guzzling SUV and call it sacrifice. Frankly, I was too tired.

Divisions in our fair land remain as do claims that we are or should be divided into patriots and pretenders. For one thing, patriots—or so the patriots would have you believe—are God-fearing. I don’t fear any possible supreme being as much as I fear closed-minded rhetoric and the absolute certainty that permits mere humans to assume not that they’re in search of “the Truth” but that they’ve found it. Another post I read recently has bravely tackled the subject of whether the United States is truly a Christian nation or simply a nation with a Christian majority by suggesting that we as a nation fall short of following true Christian principles. While I can scarcely lay claim to direct knowledge of how Christianity or any other religion defines good, I agree that we sometimes fall short. On the other hand, we hold these United States of America to a different standard, as well we should because somehow, in some exceptional manner, we have proven to be pretty darned successful at integrating and allowing a huge and hugely diverse constituency to express themselves without fear.

No one should be starving here and some are; no one should be struggling either, and too many are. The marketplace has produced some impressive innovations and an oppressive focus on short-term gains; we all want a piece of the pie and so sometimes lose site of the common good.

But while I don’t claim to be able to know with the admirable certainty displayed by others the minds of the Founding Fathers, I’m impressed that they (our Fathers) managed to jump-start a nation so durable that it could survive several examples of internal strife and countless examples of external struggles and still grow, not just stronger but also wiser. They had faith in our country and so do I. We are too slow for some (me, most days) but growth is evident; even when we slide temporarily backwards, we manage to pull ourselves forward.

Thus, complaints, criticisms, and concerns about my president, my representatives, my judiciary, and my fellow citizens will resume next week; we’ve got much to discuss. Meanwhile, I’m celebrating, beginning with this invocation: may good continue to bless America. Happy birthday, and pass me that sparkler.