Service of Independence Day

July 1st, 2010

Categories: Anniversaries, Celebrations, Independence Day, Nostalgia, Tradition



The Sunday before I left to live in the Middle East for two years, the final song at church was “God Bless America.” Prone to tear up while watching Hallmark Card Mother’s Day commercials, I burst into tears that morning.

Being chauvinistic implies fanaticism. Being patriotic is considered inappropriate by many, or vulgar, but I am, even when unconditional love is hard to maintain.

rollyoureyesI feel about this country quite like how I feel when someone I love does something I object to or makes me roll my eyes in disbelief. I may wince and speak up with voice and/or vote yet I cringe when the US is accused of doing something wrong even if I agree that it shouldn’t. [You know, the old I-can-say-something-negative-about-my-child, sister, brother or parent-but-God-help-you-if-you-do syndrome]. I also mourn when I notice how America has lost its luster in areas in which it used to shine.

declaration-of-indepI have friends whose pedigrees affiliate them to this country well over a century closer to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 234 years ago than any one of my fattest American bloodlines. They don’t feel the slightest excitement when they see the flag snapping smartly in the wind on top of a building or bridge or watch a small town dressed in flags and families following the town fire engine down Main Street to celebrate the 4th of July. I do. In fact, many don’t “get” me.

Where do you stand on patriotism?

Flag on Mid-Hudson Bridge, shot from the car

Flag on Mid-Hudson Bridge, shot from the car

7 Responses to “Service of Independence Day”

  1. Jeremiah Said:

    What a beautiful and feeling post!

    From my childhood on the Fourth of July has ranked right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving for me, although increasingly less so in recent years. It deserved to be because the Declaration of Independence and the men who signed it were both unique and remarkable in the history of mankind like nothing else I can think of.

    My most memorable, and in a way meaningful, Fourth was the two hundredth in 1976 when we had an English Benedictine monk visiting with us in a small Connecticut town with the fire engines and all that stuff you wrote about. He was a remarkable man who had turned down the fast track to a Cardinal’s robes to remain a simple teacher and spoke of the event with great understanding but from the perspective of a citizen of the country that lost its colonies.

    As someone whose home for 18 out of the first 28 years of his life was in Europe, I used to feel quite patriotic about America when I was abroad, but in many ways I was more comfortable with Europe’s more old fashioned approaches to life.

    For me the changes over the past fifty years in America, in its demographic mix, its lobbyist and greed riddled political structures, its declining and soon to disappear middle class, in its rampant consumerism and consumption based habits, in its ever diminishing intellectual competence, in its addictions to both mass marketed drugs and, excessively expensive, lavish and vacuous entertainments, in its grossly over priced and increasingly inept education system – I was appalled to read recently that over 60% of adult Americans do not know the name of even one Supreme Count justice –, and in its growingly fervent and dangerously hostile to people like me extremist religiosity, make it a country hard to find much like about any more, unless you are crazy about micro chips.

    Granted that I admit to being a Luddite, I don’t find much to cheer about anymore, and when it comes to tear shedding, give me the last act of La Boheme, or the Hebrew prisoners’ chorus from Nabucco, or the Marcheline in the last act of Der Rosenkavalier.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The Europe of your childhood is gone. Drive around and many of those charming enclaves are surrounded by strip malls like the many ugly places that have stripped our suburbs of appeal. Last time I was in Paris, people slammed into me without apologizing just as they do in NY–what can I say other than pass the rose colored glasses.

    There are still millions who hold on to the values Americans are known for–starting with selling honest, skilled work, expecting to give customers value for their money and enjoying handing over jobs well done. As for accents, given that my father had a wonderful French one–he first learned English in his mid-30s when he moved to the States–I don’t care about the accent of the person doing the work.

    I imagine that the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, facing the industrial revolution, shared the same sinking feeling you have about where and the way things are going. My advice: help start or join a movement.

    We are still permitted to express our points of view without recrimination. That’s worth a lot.

    Happy 4th!

  3. Anonymous Said:

    Jeanne: I can hold my emotions in check until the veterans pass by–they get me teary every time. The older they are, the quicker I am to cry.

    For me, my favorite song is “This Land is Your Land.” Patriotism can be a fine thing, as long as it isn’t used as an excuse to infringe on others’ rights. I think that your version of patriotism–where you see that we sometimes fall short and that we can do better–is healthy and productive. But I think that we must hear criticism even if it stings (as my pediatrician is fond of quoting, “Without failure there can be no success.”)

    As far as the past goes, I do not want to return to a gentler time, because my childhood memories of this country weren’t so gentle–Watergate, Kent State, Vietnam, crime, violence, hatred. From what I’ve read the 1930s, 40s, and 50s weren’t great for many Americans. So I think we’re moving in the right direction now. We’re not perfect but we’re willing to make changes and move forward.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I know what you mean about the old veterans.

    However, I was walking down Fifth Avenue earlier this year and there was a parade in which ROTC students participated. There were very few people watching–mostly veterans, some injured, parents, siblings and friends cheering and snapping photos. Having so few spectators was sad, but what made me weep that day was thinking of so many vigorous, innocent young people going off to war to return injured or worse.

    There is hope in your comment. When I can’t eventually find hope in even a miserable situation, I am in the doldrums until I do. Maybe I am part plant–reaching for the sun, even if growing in a deep pit.

  5. Anonymous Said:

    I know what you mean about ROTC students. Recently I was walking with my 5-year-old daughter, her friend, and her friend’s mother in a park when we rounded a corner and saw some ROTC students taking a break from their exercises. One of the students was female and my daughter said, “Look, mommy–a lady soldier.” A lump formed in my throat when I thought about the possibility of sending my own daughter off to war but I was grateful that there are people willing to make that choice. So I smiled at the “lady soldier” and said that ladies can be soldiers, too. The other mom thanked them all for their service.

    The ROTC students you saw would have received more support had the parade not been on Fifth Avenue but had it been in better market for such things (the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Union, NJ is an extremely supportive place for veterans and ROTC students. Vietnam veterans are greeted with shouts of, “Welcome home.”)

    Keep reaching for the sun, Jeanne, and stop watching the news when you’re in the doldrums (read a little history instead. Things can be–and often have been–worse.)

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Good idea about reading history and biographies [what I love]–or watching Law & Order or NCIS reruns. Takes my mind off stuff.

    Thank goodness for so many people–along with those willing to go to war, nurses, doctors, police and firemen and women and those who come to friends’ bedsides and hold their hands when they most need company.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    There are probably as many interpretations of patriotism as there are people. I haven’t given the topic much thought. I get no thrill waving flags around and singing songs. I don’t feel like dying for causes, and would make a lousy Gold Star mother, since I would be highly resentful at seeing my child, or anyone else’s, lying dead at my feet, no matter what the reason.

    On the other hand, I have no respect for those who burn flags and and/or attempt to thwart their country’s efforts to defend itself or its principles. While not considering war a solution to problems, I don’t see myself as one who understands all issues, and certain factors may elude observation.

    The United States has afforded millions a life unmarred by undue violence, bombs, looting and other horrifying episodes associated with enemy attack. It is a huge gift not granted most occupants of the planet. It should inspire gratitude, and above all, loyalty regardless of political persuasion. Now is the time of year to think less of cookouts and firecrackers, and more about remembering to say “Thank you.” A Happy Fourth to all!

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