Independence Day Isn’t Just a Political Celebration

I know exactly where I will be tomorrow. I'll be sitting on a grass-covered hill in a small town in Maine, applauding as fire trucks and floats roll by, watching my kids wave to the parade royalty and chase down candy thrown by the marchers, getting just a little teary as the war veterans ride by, and celebrating this unwieldy and flawed conglomeration of people and history and ideas called America.

It has taken me a while to understand why I like the Fourth of July so much. I don't like government or politics. The onset of yet another round of presidential elections fills me with a vague dread and nausea. I don't even like the Pledge of Allegiance.

If I have problems with all of these bastions of Americana, why bother celebrating this weekend? Why don't I treat the Fourth of July with the same indifference I show Election Day?

For me, the Fourth of July is not a political celebration. I understand that it is for most people. And yes, I do see all those local politicians driving by in bunting-draped cars during that parade I'm so fond of. But for me, vaunting celebrations of contemporary political issues and personalities are not the point of the Fourth.

Mixed feelings may well be the only appropriate kind.

I'm not even there for the historical aspects of the celebrations. (Though, for the record, one of the most surprisingly moving things I have done on a past Fourth of July was to attend a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. I was brought to tears at many points, and to full-on rage at others. You could read it this weekend, if you wanted.) The June 17 tragedy in Charleston has reminded us, yet again, that history is never as uncomplicated as we would like it to be. Mixed feelings may well be the only appropriate kind. And so, as interested as I am in America's founding, and as inspired as I am by so many aspects of it, that's not why I'll be sitting on the hill watching the parade go by.

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