Photo: Our wild raspberries are coming in! The blackberries have flowered and the blueberry bush seems to be thriving. A good year for the garden! Yay!
I have been thinking a lot about what to write today. July 4th is a bittersweet time for any American who knows her history. This year is especially hard, given the circumstances. It would be so easy to write another post about my vulnerability, my anguish, my fear, my bitterness… all of these things exist within me. It doesn’t take long while consuming the news for me to feel any of these emotions and so much more…
but I’m reminded that July 4th is a neighborhood holiday. It’s a time to fall into someone’s backyard, signature dish in hand, and place on a table a yearly covenant between neighbors. It’s a time to gather, blanket to blanket, under a darkening sky to enjoy the fireworks under the protective watch of local firefighters and policemen. It’s a time to welcome more into the melting pot, feeling a stir in the soul when people make solemn vows to take up the role of Citizen in a nation in need of more good ones.
This is a neighborhood holiday. Unlike all the others, this one is connected to the land that we all tread on. It’s personal. It’s uniquely ours. But it’s at its best when it is shared with the many. There is nothing more equalizing that sitting in the same park, children running down fabric-covered alleyways with sparklers and flags in hand (stepping ever so closely to uncovered toes!), waiting for that first great spark to shoot into the sky. This is us. This is who we are. All of the history, the fighting, the shenanigans, and the bullshit somehow, someway, bring us to these places. As neighbors. As people sharing a moment of a day and a history that goes on and on.
This is us. This is who we are. This is our history. This is our day. All of it, for better and for worse.
It’s hard to find that feeling of neighborly respect these days. It’s hard to share this nation with people who I so strongly disagree with. It’s easy to slip into a desire… a wanting for them to come to pain, to anguish, to poverty, to ruin. How warm and fuzzy it feels sometimes to dismiss other people out of hand. To decide that they are morally corrupt or somehow unequipped to understand the gravity of their actions. It’s easy to write off whole swaths of the nation, whole orientations of worldview.
It’s easy. But it gets us nothing.
There are some out there who have a problem with the way many people have chosen to engage with their civic duties and opportunities. I am of the opinion that participation in all forms is good participation, even if it is not traditional and even if it has shallow implications for now. I believe that allowing for the continued (and yes, shallow, sometimes not terribly effective) participation of now can yield great dividends in increased participation in the more important moments to come. In other words, if you’ve never really done much in the civic sphere, but you cared enough to travel to a Pussyhat rally and you care enough to continue to send postcards when you’re pissed, stick around for the upcoming moments. Not just the big mid-terms and the Great Reckoning of 2020, but your local elections and your state elections between now and then. Stay and play. Stay focused. We need you.
But there is so much more to do outside of casting ballots and showing up to raise your voice.
I was given a directive a long time ago to love where I live. To choose the place where I live, to love it fully and let that love manifest into civic service. I have been able to succeed in this directive in some ways, and I have failed in that directive in other ways. But here is something I’m proud of: for everything I say about New England, all of the things that I loathe about it… I’ve learned to love my neighbors. I’ve learned names, especially of the people who regularly serve me at the grocery store, at my favorite little restaurant, at my corner burger joint, even at the gas station. I’ve listened to stories with sincerity and without care for time. I’ve chosen organizations that matter to me and I’ve championed them publicly and privately. I’ve given money and raised money for a spectrum of ideas and causes for the benefit of others in my community and state. I’ve cooked meals, I’ve packed them up and sent them near and far. I’ve opened my kitchen to the people I’ve met along the way, sharing with them the recipes as sacred as kinklings and as mundane as hot dogs. I’ve served from my kitchen and I’ve cooked in others. I’ve knitted with strangers. I’ve joined a church. I’ve taught some children and actively mentored others. I’ve done my best to choose to reach out and step into new rooms and new communities for the purpose of weaving more threads toward a stronger neighborhood fabric.
They are all small actions, but together they do create something meaningful. There is so much that I cannot do and I cannot give. But these things… these small things… I give with a loving heart.
You can wear your patriotism on your sleeve or you can write it on your heart. You can mount a flag on your car, or you bear the burden of its meaning on your back. You can scream for change and stamp your feet or you can strive, every day, to be it.
The founding documents and the institutions that were built around them have never asked for your perfection. Only your time, your ambition, and your faithful commitment to something larger than you and helpful for the many. The Fourth of July is a reminder and a renewal of the vows you were born into keeping or you raised your right hand before reciting. It’s manifested cookout to cookout, outspread blanket to outspread blanket, neighbor to neighbor.
This is us. This is who we are. You are part of it. Stay focused, we need you.
I’m taking this week to be with my boys, to frolic under the sun, to eat some good food, to write as best I can and, hopefully, to sleep. I’ll come back next week strong as ever and committed to continuing to share.
I wish you a few stories with a stranger over a blanket under the starry sky this week, Dear Reader. I wish you a stirring in your heart as an anthem is played. I wish you joy at the sight of children just discovering what this holiday is all about. I wish you rest and time to renew and recommit to the coming challenges that face us all. You, me, and the neighbors we know but may not agree with. We’re all in this together whether we like it or not, Dear Reader. We always have been. That’s how this country has always work. Our history books tell the stories of the many who took up the task of being the light against the darkness. Let your actions, big and small, be added to the record.
Until next Monday, reach out, raise your voice, open your heart, speak the truth, renew your commitment, shine brightly and take care.