Today is July 5th, and much of the hoopla is over. I admit I did my share of celebrating the holiday. I watched the parade, wheeled the totally decorated little red wagon full of my red white and blue clad niece and nephew around festivities on the grounds of the town hall. I even tried to explain Independence Day to my nephew, quickly detailing our oppression under England. After my tale, he said, “Please pass the jelly.”
I also have to admit that this holiday is filled with conflict for me. This year my older son served a tour of duty in Iraq and my younger son has been working side by side with Muslim students in Turkey. I am proud of both my sons and yet I have lived this year in personal fear and anxiety, as I never have before. I hate this war, and the fiasco that this administration has created both in this country and in this world. I am embarrassed at the tainted reputation of the United States. I rant at the environmental irresponsibility we perpetrate in the world and I despise our lack of responsible action in Darfur.
And yet here is the paradox; our celebration yesterday was with my brother’s in-laws. A family we visit every Fourth of July. His father-in-law, was born on the Fourth and he’s an immigrant from Italy. His family arrived here soon after World War II, were they spent months hiding from the Fascists in caves, often starving and cold. His mother-in-law came from East Germany, escaping into the safety of cousins with open arms, here in the US. We don’t talk about these things on the Fourth, we go to the parade, eat hot dogs and potato salad and dress up in silly patriotic outfits. But under the surface of the celebration is a deep knowledge that all this is possible because we live in the US, because we are free and have rights unparalleled in the world. This family came here to this country and on hope and hard work has created a life of modest means with a loving family and deep friendships.
So I wrestle with this paradox, how do I love a country that has gone so terribly wrong? How do I not love a country that at its core is so right? What have I personally done that has allowed this to happen? What have I ignored? What can I do now? How can I make my personal efforts meaningful?
This paradox challenges me to think, to delve deeply into my beliefs and actions and I believe such wrestling is what makes spiritual journeys relevant.