I arrived at church today with a sudden shock of self-consciousness. It was like the time I told Craig that the costume party we were taking the kids to included adults. He dressed up as Elvis in a white jumpsuit, glasses and sideburns and we arrived at the church before I told him that we might be the only adults in costume. We were. The people who were at church that night never let him live down being a potsie to my prank. So, this morning as I strode in wearing my green and white outfit I knew instantly I was out of place. Everyone as far as I could see was wearing red white and blue. I saw flag shirts on men, sequined vests on grandmas, star spangled ties, jewlery, hair bobs and every manner of coordinated old glory you can imagine. I never got the memo! I must say it was festive even though I was sure I was being marked as unpatriotic.
An emotionally charged tradition in our church then unfolded as the choir sang a song that included all of the anthems from the army, navy, air force, coast guard and marines. With each anthem the men and women in the congregationwho served that branch stood while the people in the room applauded and the song continued to play. I was captivated by the looks on the faces of the older generation who served. They had their eyes fixed on the American flag, but in every face I saw a quiver ever so slightly in the lips betraying the emotion this stirred in them. Memories were swarming their minds I was sure of it. It made me so thankful to be an American, protected by men like this so I can enjoy freedom of speech right here every day. So my children can can practice their religion freely as they choose. And they can grow up and choose their vocation rather than be told what job they will have.
I stole a look at my sons as they took in the entire scene. They eagerly searched to see all the people who served. There was a dreamy quality in their eyes as they wondered what real war would be like, and if they too one day would be standing for applause in on the fourth of July for serving their country. As a mother of all boys it twists a tight vulnerable place in me that is conflicted about that. Then I remind myself, God has their future planned for them, it’s not my job to do. So I pray. Later, while a woman sang God Bless America the emotion in me bubbled up into an ineffable gratitude to God I had to bow my head to him immediately and thank him for letting me be born American. We aren’t perfect, and I’m not interested in being political, but of all the places I could be from, I’m thankful it’s here.
I wouldn’t need to attend another holiday event after the completion of that song. My heart united with the dignity of the day. As we live in a big city it requires us to maneuver in vast crowds to see the organized fireworks. Our family agrees on one thing always: avoid crowds whenever possible. They get that from their dad. Me? I like to watch people. I am energized by people.
My mother lives in a small town in Northern Michigan where they have quintessential fourth of July parades, picnics, and firework displays. I appreciate her zeal for the community celebrations.But for us, we are going to stay at home tonight. Some rascals in the neighborhood always put a really nice show on over the lake so if we want to see fireworks they are outside the window.
I will never forget an Independence Day celebration we had in Connecticut. It might have been the last time we ever ventured out for corporate celebrating and after I share this story you might understand why. We spent our Saturdays in the summer at a beach in southern Connecticut with our four young sons. Jack still rode on my hip and Kevin was a preschooler. They advertised a fourth of July celebration at night on the beach so we decided to go. It was spectacular to be on the beach and watch the fireworks shot from a boat as the sun set made the sky a dark purple backdrop. All was fine until Kevin wandered off in the dark. We couldn’t find him for half an hour. My heart nearly stopped as I feared the worst cases of him drowning or being taken. I wasn’t a pretty sight, nor did I remain calm and in control. I was panicked and crying and probably did a little screaming. When we found him, he was about ten picnics over just enjoying the fireworks. Yes, I can definitely say it was the last time we went out into a crowd to see fireworks. I sure hope going out to see fireworks isn’t the definition for one’s patriotism.