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What He Said

July 4, 2020

Sometimes, I just feel nostalgic and aching for words of wisdom from old guys who’ve been around a while, who are decent and optimistic and seasoned. I’m cool with modern thought, ready for younger more energetic people to take the reins. But I also ache to be comforted, or reminded, or schooled by the elders once in a while.

Cue Dan Rather.

This July 4. My 88th Independence Day. I have seen a lot. I have never seen anything like this.

This is a time when we usually gather with friends and loved ones. We can’t.

We often hit the road, or the airport. We don’t.

A parade. A ballgame. A sense of security. Mostly just faint memories, and fervent hopes.

(Even the fireworks, should they come, won’t feel that special since many are being bombarded with loud shows of light evening after evening in our locked-down nation.)

This is a Fourth of July of pain, of anxiety, of uncertainty, and also of reckoning, with the injustices of our past and the terms by which we will define our future. Celebrating America in 2020 feels off, no matter the inborn pride many of us feel for our country. We don’t look much like a “city on a hill” in relation to the broader world, as our national leadership throws up walls of hate, and lies, and cruelty, and our reckless response to the pandemic has the world shutting us out. And we are being forced, yet again, to confront the fault lines between reality and rhetoric which have shaken our nation since its founding. The protests that have taken to the streets, the difficult but necessary conversations over race and privilege and justice taking place within institutions, and businesses, and governments, and families, and social groups, come once again in the wake of tragedy and death that has been part of Black America since before that first July 4.

This is an age of crumbling, of our sense of ourselves and our relationship with our nation. We see statues crumbling, and tropes, and the simplistic narratives that too many of us have used to shield our eyes from the truth.

But here is why July 4 should be especially resonant in these times. It doesn’t signify a victory. Far from it. In 1776, the chances of a republic by and for (some of) the people was far from assured. It doesn’t signify a finish line. We can see in the words of the Declaration of Independence tragic irony for a nation of slavery authored by slaveholders. It does signify a beginning. A hope. A journey forward for our nation’s people to plot, generation after generation. It is a journey towards that famous and fraught phrase from the Constitution, “a more perfect union.”

Today, that union seems far from perfect. Is it worse or are we finally seeing what was always there? I suspect a bit of both. On this July 4, I pause with open eyes, but also an open heart. I am listening. I am moved. I am angry. I am determined. I see many reasons for hope. I see action and ingenuity. My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, to thee (to all of thee) I sing.

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