Photographs and simply illustrated poems framed and hung on the walls catch the light-hearted mood of Independence Days past.
One "tape" in my mind catches it all. An off-the-wall drama with music and dance featured Paul, the oldest living family member, in a hat marked "WISE MAN," with my brother sitting beside as coach to feed him his lines when he faltered. The whole crowd of relatives, fortified with spirits, cheered as we performed, and grew appropriately serious as we ended up loudly singing "God Bless America." Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant, was duly credited for his contribution. With Bearwallow Mountain looking down on us, the Statue of Liberty (my game daughter-in-law) dressed in a sheet, wearing a tinfoil crown and clutching a tablet of wood, held up her torch (fireworks found by my son) which blew out red sparks at the reprise and provided the perfect patriotic finale.
But what about this year? We are all still staggering from the soul-searing events of Sept. 11. The group of second-graders I was tutoring in April showed fright and tears when they heard I was flying to New York, calming down only when I told them I would be back with a picture postcard for each one. And I saw Ground Zero, with wreaths, letters, stuffed animals, T-shirts, and flowers crowding the fence of the old church that sheltered some of the firefighters between their runs into the maelstrom.
My second-graders assured me they had written a letter, sent by the teacher to President Bush, and I assured them that it was probably somewhere on that fence.
We can all remember where we were when we heard the incomprehensible news, and that day will be seared into memory forever, fixed by whatever brain chemicals that serve in putting away memories of life-threatening and life-taking events. I drove to Georgia that day with the radio constantly tuned, to attend a previously planned musical in memory of my parents. The retirement facility urged me not to cancel because the residents needed to get away from the television coverage a while.
It has taken months to even begin to comprehend what has happened. Different mindsets see it differently. And with the background noise of other falling institutional edifices, we are even more bewildered. Enron falls, the economy deflates, the Catholic Church is blown apart by whistle-blowers about the coverup of sexual abuse involving trusting kids.
After Sept. 11, I felt compelled to fly the Earth flag, which shows our beautiful and fragile planet against a background of the deepest dark blue of outer space, because I felt it was no longer a matter of my country fighting yours. It was now a matter of our world and its "family values" considered as a whole global community dedicated to interdependency. I began to wonder as poignant stories of the dead were printed if there could be in-depth stories also of lesser individuals in our family, such as children dying of starvation on the other side of the world, or teens blasted by Middle East violence. And I began to search and find those stories.
Maybe Enron and the Catholic Church have much to teach us as we think about our celebration of the Fourth.
First, let's shine light on everything we set out to do because now we can see how it spins out, coming back to us like a boomerang. Any self-enclosed institution or nation takes the great chance of interior rot and deterioration if it is only concerned with self-protection and the aggrandizement of power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Harper's editor Lewis Lapham indicates that his magazine has lost a few subscribers because of his editorials urging self-reflection by our country. But I would say to him he is in very good company. Galileo wasn't popular, and Jesus Christ followed an inner compass despite overwhelming odds.
When I am tempted to gloss over our faults, I am going to remember those two towers of the World Trade Center going down in flames. Let's listen to what is being said about America.
And I will sing exuberantly, but also solemnly, this holiday. " Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. From the mountains to the prairies to the ocean white with foam. God bless America, my home sweet home."
And God bless America, one among many of the family of nations on this sweet earth.
Happy July Fourth. S
Sue McMurray lives and writes in Durham, N.C. She works for Educational Design Services.
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