Once again, Americans have gathered across the nation to celebrate the Fourth of July. It is a day of great rejoicing. We converge in many public parks to share family picnics and impromptu games of touch football. Families fire up the grill for brisket, chicken and ribs. Boats buzz across our lakes with flags waving. Groups of motorcycle and biking enthusiasts take off to enjoy a road trip. And don’t forget the watermelon! In Texas, a Fourth of July celebration is not complete without a nice chunk of watermelon to settle the stomach after a day of feasting. I retain a fond childhood memory of a watermelon ‘seed spitting contest’ during a hot Fourth of July in Texas. Americans finish the day by travelling to the nearest location with a good fireworks display. As the darkness is pierced with beautiful designs made possible by pyrotechnic masters, we reflect on the many blessings that are bestowed on our great land.
“America! America! God shed His grace on Thee.” These lyrics, penned by Katharine Lee Bates, always bring a lump to my throat when singing along with the crowd. It can be played on a guitar, flute or even a simple harmonica. It is more akin to a folk song when sung by Ray Charles. But when the song is expressed with the trumpet and voice of Phil Driscoll, the melody takes flight on wings of passion.
America! I am part of the community of ordinary folk who make America such a wonderful place to call home. We have deep gratitude for our freedoms. They are liberal compared to the limited menu of options allowed by many governments. We are free to chart our course and to express our individuality in our manner of dress. We are free to follow our hearts. We embrace free moral agency as long as it does not cause harm to the fabric of society. This agency to act on individual behalf effectively sifts humanity as grains of wheat, the ordinary chaff from the more precious grain. We let it ‘all hang out’ and leave it to others to love us or leave us, based on our actions. We get what we deserve. And many of us are lucky enough not to get what should boomerang back into our laps.
What about the men of the US? They are the backbone of our nation in so many ways. Their hands frame their labour. I think of our family mechanic. I have never seen him with clean hands. But I honour him for the grease that is always under his fingernails. The US moves her produce and many of her goods by road, ship and rail. These are also sturdy and capable hands. May theses hands always find a fresh cup of coffee available for the long haul. Our men are bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers, industrialists and businessmen. They are factory shift workers, janitors and cooks. American men work! The work ethic remains quite strong across our nation.
American women? We are strong and resilient. We are confident and comfortable in our own skin. We remain grateful for our own hard-earned rights: the right to vote, to seek educational opportunities, to bind up our hopes and our dreams within our families and also within the marketplace of commerce and ideas. Our identities are not culturally restricted. We do not look like potted plants lined up in neat little rows. We are like the wildflowers in the meadow, startling rich in our variety of style and grooming. We are full of surprises and our dreams for our lives are as big as our hearts. We like to keep the men guessing about what is housed between our ears. Perhaps that is why American men quake a bit when they consider marriage. Freedom can be a messy business!
American children? They are too pampered in many quarters. But I prefer a pampered child to the image of the small human being who has suffered intense psychological abuse from a malignant parental figure. I was fortunate to find myself nestled in the arms of a loving mother at birth. As I matured, the firm but loving hand of my father was always on my shoulder. I credit him with making me into the woman who honours him today. I also honour my mother for the greater role she played in my early childhood.
We honour the disabled population in America. The strength of a society is demonstrated in the care shown to the weakest link. The head injured, those with cerebral palsy, or any congenital deformity are also stamped with the image of God. Christians believe this fact, deep in our hearts, and it shows in our care for the vulnerable members of our society. Compassion is the strength of a community. And God uses mortal men as instruments of His mercy. So while we care for the disabled, we also understand that their lives are a parable, a possible enigma, when pondering God’s infinite power. I understand such things. My brother was born with cerebral palsy. My own life has been enriched by his presence in our family. Vulnerable and utterly beautiful, this frail man has impacted my own life.
Our culture teaches to rise up in the presence of the elderly. I see this honour for our senior citizens every day. It is subtle but the signs are there for the observant. It is a politeness that shows respect. In the southern states the use of ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ is bestowed on one and all. But it has greater meaning when directed toward those blessed with longevity. As a registered nurse, I have attended many seminars that address the care of the elderly. The interface of medical care with weakened physical frame is a complete discipline known as geriatric care.
My nation is beautiful. I love this land. I love the people. I am grateful to be born a citizen.
America! America! God shed his grace on thee...Happy Birthday!
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org