Celebrating without fireworks

Friday, July 6, 2012

The lack of an official July Fourth celebration this year because of the weather has challenged Monettans to improvise and find individual ways to appreciate the nation's birthday.

We tend to categorize our freedoms by subtraction, what we would not be able to do under other conditions. In other countries, we would not be able to freely gripe about the government, go to any church we want, travel anywhere we please, publish a newspaper that expresses criticism or own a firearm.

One of the challenges of July Fourth is to celebrate America as it is, as opposed to how it was. It's the difference between Memorial Day, when we honor the dead, and the living. Our celebration must honor the past and recognize freedoms that make America real to generations who have never personally fought a war.

More than any other holiday, the Fourth of July is when we ought to recognize what defines us as a people. For some, it is the reality of ancestors coming here from another nation to start a new life. For many, it is a land of opportunity, the freedom to find good work and rise from having very little to living comfortably.

Monettans are defined by geographic proximity, a space we share, a community we created together. A nation may be much harder to conceptualize. Here, at least, we see each other and can share a sense of each other's needs. It's harder to fight for someone you've never seen.

The Fourth of July makes a good time to celebrate community builders. We can easily honor the emergency responders, our new post-911 heroes. We should also celebrate the people who serve on public boards, the volunteers who take on tasks for the greater good.

Their service may not be revolutionary, but they are nonetheless community builders, and, with deeds added on top of deeds, they are nation builders.

How do we honor them? Saying "thank you" would be nice. Proudly flying a flag that says we belong together is another, but we have to fly the flag with purpose. We have to think of it as our flag, not just "my" flag.

Back in the 1960s, during the anti-Vietnam war tension, the phrase, "America, love it or leave it" surfaced as a backlash to the protestors. There really couldn't be a more un-American statement, saying my America is right and your America is wrong. "Our" America, like our Monett, really embraces both. Finding common ground is what 236 years of preserving and celebrating the United States of America is all about.

As we continue our holiday weekend, let us linger on the idea of America. The puzzle pieces may come together unevenly. The people may prove challenging and even disagreeable, but when we stand together, nothing in history has proven to be more resilient, more embracing and more enduring. The whole is indeed greater than the parts. Nurture the ingredients at hand, and the nation, on our watch, grows stronger for a better tomorrow.