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Today, my family and I will attend the world’s most charming 4th of July parade, an 80-year tradition which happens less than a mile from our house. Handmade floats and local politicians and lots of candy being thrown from vintage cars and a brigade of streamer-clad bikes. It’s like a Norrman Rockwell painting that we all make come to life.
I have mixed feelings about attending our local parade this year, given the audacity of the leaders of this country to concoct yet more creative ways to inflict pain and suffering on vulnerable people. I don’t know how to celebrate America today. I don’t know how to be in the presence of my Member of Congress when my kid is scrambling for one more thrown Jolly Rancher and a kid at the border is drinking water out of a toilet.
It feels like complicity to wear red, white, and blue. And of course, it is.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a 95-year old man who served in World War II. A line of aging veterans took turns saluting the casket with white gloves. It was stunning: the precision and protocol that marks the military, ensuring uniformity. Our eyes were meant to focus on a collective, not on an individual. The military is not an organization that celebrates individuality. There’s a 257-page manual that I found on the Internet explaining all the protocols for these funerals — including the placement of your thumb when making a fist, and the requirement that each person who shoots a rifle have the same color and style of ear protection.
It’s not about you, in other words: “you” are now “us.”
In that moment, we were all “us,” too. We put our hands on our hearts during Taps, collectively grateful for the selflessness that led a generation of young men to liberate camps packed full of suffering human beings in Europe no so long ago. Camps erected in the midst of a complicit community, carrying on with its daily life.
Today, for me, is a day to reckon with the reality of my complicity. I cannot proclaim the benefits of being part of a collective “American” identity if I don’t also bear responsibility for our shared sins. (No matter what Mitch McConnell says.)
It’s easy for me to think of ways to show my individual disgust with our country right now. I can wear black to the parade. I can not show up at all. I can shout at my Congressman, or hold a sign in protest, or I can post all my objections to the President’s tweets on Facebook. What’s harder is finding my place in the collective response — the “us” — that may actually fix this mess.
I think I’ll wear my red, white, and blue today — not proudly, but because I think wiggling out of my identity as an American today won’t give a blanket or a toothbrush to a traumatized child. One midwestern lady’s outrage did not liberate the Japanese Internment Camps or end Jim Crow; it was a thousand people, choreographing their movements, that transported slaves to freedom, a hundred that traversed the Edmund Pettis Bridge, 13 thousand lemonade-drinkers who wanted to fix the border crisis.
My red, white, and blue is not in celebration of independence today. It’s my celebration, my reminder, my proclamation of interdependence. We are, none of us, alone.
It’s the greatest thing I can think of about being American.