Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The 4th of July

     At dinner last night, I asked my family what the Fourth of July meant to them.  Unfortunately but not surprisingly, like much of our demographic, my daughters reported that it didn't mean terribly much to them.  My twelve-year-old commented that it was difficult to celebrate the country right now, which is perfectly understandable considering how harshly her belief system is being assailed (by both ends of the political spectrum -- her belief system puts a premium on cooperation).  It does raise the question, what do we honor when we celebrate "the country"?  Is it the country's history?  It's philosophy?  It's reigning political party or president?  It's future?  Even within any of these categories, we must then determine what any of those things actually means to us.
     My fourteen-year-old said that, apart from the country's birthday, the Fourth of July was the day she must powerfully remembered her grandfather.  It would have made her grandfather very happy to know that he was associated with that day.  A World War II veteran and life-long democrat, he never lost faith in his country though he lived through some particularly faith-threatening times (Richard Nixon comes most directly to mind).  One of the few times I ever saw him shed tears was the day the United States elected its first president of color.  He once noted that he was proud of his children (one a social worker, one a teacher and one an art dealer like he was) because they were "good for the country."
     Maybe my older daughter's idea was the right one, that we can honor the country by honoring people who exemplify characteristics of great Americans.  My father's patriotic idealism was quiet but undaunted, and in retrospect that unflagging ability to believe in the best possibilities is perhaps the things I most admire about him.  It is without a doubt one of the many things I wish I could ask him for some advice on today.