An Iffy Fourth


I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
― James Baldwin

It is no surprise I wrestle with holidays – a long standing theme in my life, has been for many years. For some reason rallying for another thing feels unnecessary and more than I choose to manage. Maybe I’ll grow out of it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m just lazy, but my family doesn’t seem bothered  so I guess I’m good.

Despite my bah humbug tendencies, I still enjoy a good barbecue and municipal fireworks display. But yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday felt different. Heavy and weighed, a firm reminder of where we are not as a people. The past three weeks have been most difficult as I’ve imagined myself a young mother separated from my precious babies, after journeying an uncertain and intrepid course for months. I knew it was going to get bad, I just didn’t think it could get this bad. And the holiday rubbed my nose in the mess just a little bit more.

And before we accuse one another of lacking patriotism, I would challenge us to consider these inscribed words:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

These words are a prescription, an invitation to a nation that has lost its way.

As we prepare to launch our child from childhood to adulthood, I’m reminded of the early days of parenting iron-willed infants and toddlers. In this new-to-me sweet spot, I am celebrating the pay off of those desperate years. Screaming through every aisle of Target, testing at every turn, begging for every toy, the hopeless days were endless. Weeping in the shower at 6:30 AM, facing a day ahead with the despair of emptiness as my guide, my soul and body were wringed out from the screaming, testing, and begging. No amount of coffee, Diet Coke, McDonald’s cheeseburgers or M&Ms could sustain me to bedtime.

And the darkness pressed in, striving to envelope and declare my mothering inept and unqualified to lead this band of miniature tyrants through to the next Bob the Builder episode. I had no vision for the possibility that this work could ever render a set of teenagers with generosity and intelligence, capable of nuanced discourse. But it happened. And while I’m not out of the woods, I see the light. The once intrepid path is now about course corrections not parental overhauls.

Despite the darkness, the lonely, ominous and altogether torturous days never stole my ideals. I knew who I wanted to raise. I knew what I wanted them to become. And I fought like hell to get them there. It is now time to celebrate my part in their formation.

And now, as a dedicated citizen of this United States of America, I will fight like hell for our ideals because I love this place. I believe in this grand experiment and I welcome and trust our becoming. The words inscribed on the plaque penned by Emma Lazarus are in my bones. This is who we long to be, who we are at our best.

But the darkness is unrelenting, threatening and trying to envelope, to declare us inept and unqualified to lead this band of sisters and brothers. But it doesn’t have to. We know who we want to raise. We know what we want to become.

I see examples all around me – from the teachers in my kids’ classrooms, to the families shopping at the grocery store with coupons and SNAP benefits, to friends at the gym offering encouragement and bantered conversation, to neighbors caring for each others’ blown over trash cans.

I read about examples all around us – from the organization RAICES seeking to reunite separated immigrant families, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who faced a ten-term democratic incumbent in the Bronx to potentially be the youngest Congressperson serving in the House of Representatives, to average people marching on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning.

The darkness wrings us out, revealing the demand for lament and truth telling, admitting our historical wretchedness. The power of our collective joins to grow this nation up – to become a just and merciful, compassionate and generous, informed and .hopeful United States of America.

May we live into our ideals as the patriotic citizens we are becoming.

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