John Adams wrote his wife Abigail in 1776 that he hoped every Second of July would be celebrated with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other. It was in Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, that delegates of the thirteen colonies at the Second Continental Congress officially voted for independence, Adams amongst them. Two days later, on the Fourth, came the adoption of the Declaration of Independence that was penned by Thomas Jefferson. Adams didn’t get his way about the day we celebrate (even then, we Americans found plenty to bicker about, and it was the Fourth of July camp that won over the Second of July camp), but he was pretty spot on about the ways we celebrate, even today. Illuminations, or fireworks: they go back all the way to the very first July Fourth celebration, at Bristol, Rhode Island, in 1777. And we’ve not stopped using them since.
I know fireworks upset pets and wildlife, but still, I love them. The booming and the sparkle in the warm night sky––these things are central to Independence Day, to summer in America. This is the time of year, too, where I get a little nostalgic for Great American legends like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill, and you know, here we are––three, four, five hundred years later into our troubled history––and a lot of these tales are not very politically correct, we know this, but still, I love them. They may be a whitewashed version of Americana, but I take them for what they are, warts and all.
It can be confusing, compromising these feelings, valuing tradition while being sensitive to the staggering number of peoples who have been done wrong through our history. And here we are today. These have not been the best of days for Democrats like me. Something fundamental has boiled up to the surface in the American experience in the past few years, something that makes some of us feel fear where others see progress and it goes in both directions and there are times lately where the chasm feels impossible to bridge. Perhaps we can take comfort in knowing that the people of this country have always disagreed on things; generally, we find ways to come together. It is what we do. Much has happened recently that bewilders me and makes me, perhaps for the first time in my life, embarrassed by what our elected officials say and do––and I am not easily embarrassed. But on the flip side, I am immensely proud of the fact that I live in a place where we can say these things and assemble to voice our discontent. Where any of us can be activists.
And so the fireworks will explode tonight over the Lake Worth Lagoon and Seth and I will be there, my mom and sister, too, I hope, on the grass, watching it all unfold. We’ll come back home after and Haden will be asleep somewhere; she never seems bothered by the commotion overhead. But I’ll have the pets in mind who are bothered, and their humans, too, for I do have compassion for them. And all day long, I’ll be singing this song in my head, just as I do each Fourth of July, just because it’s by X, a good old fashioned activist band who had plenty to say and who just happened to record a song called 4th of July. There’s a great deal of complexity to all the issues we are dealing with today and to the history that brought us here. Why should our national holiday be any different?