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The Fourth of July Feels Really Different This Year

Watching Fireworks

Just how do you celebrate the Fourth of July if you are feeling deeply unsettled about the trajectory of our country?

I know I’m not the only person thinking about that this year. In a Facebook group I follow, another parent mused about the Fourth, “It has always been a holiday my family enjoys, but I am feeling terribly conflicted about celebrating this year. I am grateful for 200 years of independence, but this year, I am not feeling proud of my country.”

To be clear: I love America deeply and passionately. We’re not yet at a point where we are required to profess that publicly in North Korean-esque performative displays (yet! Ha ha ha… sigh… military parade). But among the many reasons that I love America is because it’s a place where I could say just the opposite if I felt like it, and it would be OK, thanks to the First Amendment. To me, loving the U.S. often means loving its ideal state as opposed to its actual state. In other words, what we hope for and aspire to — and not, say, the present-day reality.

Because, as you probably know, there’s a lot of problems going on here. I won’t begin to list them all, but here’s a small sampling: Our government, to the vehement disapproval of most of us, systematically separated children from their parents with no plan to reunite them. Children (and adults) are shot dead in schools, and the only question seems to be when — not if —another shooting will take place. People are still seen for the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. We seem to have lost sight of that whole “indivisible” thing.

And yet, in spite of this very bleak reality, I’m not abstaining from my country’s birthday. In fact, I could argue that, in these tumultuous times, there is potential to find even more meaning in the holiday, far beyond the usual hot dogs and fireworks. This year, on the Fourth of July, I will celebrate the long arc that bends toward justice. And in doing so, I will recommit to working toward a better America for myself and my children. Here’s what I plan to do, on Independence Day and the days that follow:

1. I will pledge allegiance to being as active as I can be in the political process: meeting candidates, canvassing, making phone calls, sending postcards, and encouraging my fellow Americans to use the tremendous power of their vote.

On Independence Day: Sign up to campaign on behalf of a candidate you like in this coming November’s elections.

2. I will pledge to be as decent a person as I can be. I will to try to remind myself that all people are made in God’s image, and that we need to respect the divine in each other and ourselves. I suspect a small step toward doing that would be to engage in real, face-to-face conversations and not to name-call on social media.

On Independence Day: Enjoy some freedom from your phone! Take it out only to snap a few pictures of your family enjoying the fireworks.

3. I will pledge to teach my children to think critically and analytically about the news, and not to accept things as “facts” without contemplation of multiple perspectives and viewpoints.

On Independence Day: Support a news organization — and, more broadly, freedom of the press — by getting your kid a subscription to an age-appropriate publication so that you can discuss current events together.

4. I will pledge to remain committed to the ideal that America is and should be a place where we aspire to the best humanity can be. I want to work for America to live up to its potential as a colossal, majestic miracle of freedom, curiosity, community, achievement, inspiration, dedication, hard work and idealism. I love the parts of that miracle that have come to fruition, and I continue to believe in the miracle that lies in our future ahead, together.

On Independence Day — and every day after: Never give up.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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