It’s the Fourth of July in America. And here we are with shark attacks and burning churches, presidential candidate’s poll numbers rise on the strength of immigrant stigmatization… I feel as if I am just a minor character in a dystopian novel; insignificant but driven by quixotic delusion.
It was in such national celebration that I took my grandson to watch fireworks from his boat club’s downtown docks last night. There were a lot of families milling around, tables of food and a couple grills going. I approached a lady working one of the grills and asked if the food was free or if we had to pay. She informed me it was a pot luck and people were supposed to bring their own meat. Not easily offended, I overlooked the obvious surplus and quietly walked away.
The note the expressions of patriotism as they continue to proliferate around me. I still have a couple of friends posting confederate flag reverence, and one who even went so far as to conflate gay marriage with government intrusion. I watched the fireworks last night wishing I could just enjoy the lit up sky with everyone else. It’s the sound of not so far away guns. It confuses me that this stirs a patriotic pride.
My patriotism began to shape almost 50 years ago. I was at the Nha Trang airport trying to catch a flight to Cam Ranh. I was sitting quietly on a bench, smoking cigarettes, when a grunt drags this Viet Cong prisoner to the floor in front of me and sits down. The shackled VC was wearing those cut off white pants they wore and nothing else. He had a super hero’s body but was covered in dirt, slime and he stunk. He sat there defiant and he caught my stare. Our eyes locked. Another GI came up and spit on his face, uttered some vindictive shit and walked away. The prisoner’s stare never broke. I don’t think I had ever been the object of so much hatred in my young life. It was his unyielding, proud defiance that got me. This guerrilla warrior, probably off of some small, struggling farm, in this moment of irrepressible, glaring defiance, may have been the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. I think it was one of my most profound moments in that war, questioning what the fuck we were doing there, and experiencing an admiration for an “enemy” defending his country. It started me thinking in a way that has cursed me all these years. Interesting how this memory always resurfaces as we celebrate our “independence.”
I’m sharing this story in the hope that maybe a few of us might take a moment and stare with me, back into that guy’s eyes. I mean, sharks are attacking, churches are burning, an entire field of misanthropic theocrats are dominating one of our thoroughly owned, lock stock and barrel political parties. Enjoy the skies but listen to that sound, it too is a sound of terror.
All said and done, I do love my country. I am awed by how visually beautiful she is, even in our cities. However, once I get past what seems to me to be a superficial sheen in our new developments, cool as the architecture may be, I just don’t feel any “spiritual” connection. I much prefer experiencing the power in the ghost of our seemingly bombed out industrial ruins, with the neighborhoods that have within a generation gone from being sources of life to being boarded up windows and high weeds.
I love the imposition of our historical reality. I am also drawn to and often overwhelmed by our natural landscapes and the magic they evoke. As a people, it is expressed by the clashing of cultures. Well, maybe “marriage” of cultures would be a better term (much to the chagrin of certain political forces), that have made it possible for the birth of such amazing musical genres, as just one example of our national potential.
Make no mistake, there is plenty I see to be critical of, but I consider that on an historical world scale, we are just making our way through a difficult adolescence. It is through this perspective that anyone who has endured the parenting of a teen will understand my long term optimism. It is with that thought in mind that I wish all my countrymen a contemplative and calming celebration in consideration of our potential, and a good Fourth.
- Posted by Denny Zappin