I haven’t felt much like celebrating the 4th of July this year. Part of that for me is personal—it was a big deal as a kid to celebrate with fireworks and sparklers and late-night watermelon seed spitting at my parents’ house on the lake. Looking up at the colorful explosions covering the sky above me, I felt wonderfully small–safe, protected, a tiny piece of something bigger. Now both parents and the house are gone.
Part of my reluctance to celebrate is what I see when I look around our country now: Families are being torn apart at our borders, and children are kept in cages. Gun violence has become almost mundane, even as 5 journalists were murdered in a newsroom a few miles from my home in Annapolis. We are increasingly politically polarized, to the point that cooperative progress is difficult to envision.
This article by Sarah Babbs describes beautifully how I’m feeling, and has the added benefit of offering a reading list good for the whole family. I love it when the right book helps make sense of life.
In the meantime, all the patriotic-themed decorations in the grocery store have reminded me of how chaperoning my son’s 5th grade field trip to Philadelphia made me cry.
I was excited to spend the day with him and his friends, and giddy to see pieces of history I’d never before viewed in person. As we snaked through the entrance line to see the Liberty Bell, past quote after quote from abolitionists yearning, fighting for freedom, I felt a lump in my throat. The inscription on the bell reads, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” I thought of numerous unarmed black youth gunned down in various cities, of black citizens murdered in their own churches in the middle of worship. We have come far, but we still have so incredibly far to go.
Later in the day we visited Christ Church. The docent shared an amazing wealth of knowledge, including which founding mothers and fathers sat in which pews every Sunday. It’s a humbling feeling, to sit in the same sacred space as they did, so far apart in time, and to know that they heard the same Word of God that we hear today. It’s also distressing to wonder how often they might look at us and shake their heads, thinking, that is not at all what we intended.
I felt small again, sitting in that church. Small in space, and small in time. Of course, all those others who sat here so long ago, whose names we still remember, were themselves small specks. Our country has changed course quite a bit since the days when George and Martha Washington and Betsy Ross reserved a pew; with work it can continue to change.
As we were herding our elementary charges out of the church at the end of the tour, someone began playing the pipe organ. The docent had told us that it was almost done being renovated—the first renovation since it was built 200 years prior, and the only one it should need for another 200 years. He asked us to think for a moment about how long ago 200 years seemed, how much life had changed, and how the people who would play the newly refurbished organ 200 years from now might view our current society.
I hope they sit in the pews and feel small. I hope they look back at the 2000’s and pick out a few specks—maybe even a few who were here right now—who dedicated their lives to changing their country, who proclaimed liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.