Photo: Pulled up the driveway from guitar yesterday, and here is this deer. Eatin’. Not a care in the world. I put my car in park and we just watched. She watched us. Eatin’. I said, “well go on, deer. Go on with you.” She sauntered away toward the street. “Oh no! Stupid deer! Don’t go that way!” The boys laughed. “Deer are pretty stupid,” Minor said. We watched the deer saunter away, taking a right before going into the street. Bless the deer, I guess. Even if they aren’t the most intelligent folk in Creation.
Every year, the 4th of July brings the same conversation to our house.
The Husband, excited. “So, where are we going to see the fireworks this year?”
Me, annoyed. “Oh, uh… shit. Do we have to?”
The Husband, deflated. “I mean, it’s nice, and the boys…”
Me, praying it’s going to rain while looking at the forecast. “It’s going to be hot, and late, and muggy and we’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes.”
The Husband, hopeful. “We can get spray for that. It won’t be that bad when the sun goes down.”
On and on. Me with excuses. Him with solutions. Finally, this year, he said: “I can just take the boys myself if you want.”
Me, shoulders slumping. “No, I’ll go.” The boys will forever remember the year Daddy took them to the fireworks, but not Mommy.
There are many reasons why I don’t want to schlep to a field two towns over to watch the fireworks. The heat, the portapotties, and the bad cover band should be good enough. But mostly, really mostly, I don’t want to wade in the soup of strangers and neighbors. I don’t want to participate in the shared festive energy of freedomness. I don’t want to stand around judging people with their MAGA hats and broad smiles just as much as I don’t want to be judged for my brown skin and funky hair and white husband. I’m not excited about unfurling my blanket next to the next unfurled blanket, setting up my chair and taking out my drink, waiting for the sun to set while someone sings some Journey song and the ladies next to me sing along. I’m not interested in smiling at the wayward toddler tumbling over my blanket, barely missing my phone, or the gang of children zooming behind me screaming for ice cream. Small-talk about where we live and how old our children are with the old couple to our right or left (or forward or behind) does not appeal. It all feels so very trite this year. The pretending will be a full-blown chore. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. This is what so many years of living in our context will do. This is what happens when you can’t, for the 3rd year, come up with the smile so you can go out and see your happy, happy neighbors.
But then I went looking at my past July 4th posts, and I came across my words from 2017, and they are perfect for now. I’m going to put them here to encourage you, too. I hope they rally you, inspire you, and activate you. I hope they make you feel better and give you the strength and courage to not bring your bitterness with you into tomorrow. I hope you choose to do something graceful for a neighbor this weekend. I hope you choose to do something in service to your neighbor this weekend. I hope you choose to evaluate what you value and why this weekend. I hope you research and consider a political candidate this weekend. I hope you listen to the neighbor who disagrees with you and consider their words this weekend. Above all, I hope you remember this weekend that a better world is made with your full participation. “It’s too early” and “there are too many people to consider” are simply excuses that do nothing for you or for us all. We end up with the candidates we deserve. We only get the right ones if we do the work it takes to get them. Take the time. Do this good work. Earn us the voices we need to oppose the great threat to us all. Give money to the candidates who earn your trust (not a lot. Not yet. A token is enough for now). And when the time comes, when the leader emerges, be prepared to give it all: the time, the talent, and the treasure. We’ll need all of you for the fight to come. All of you. So stay focused.
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…
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 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.