On the night of the Fourth, I sit in the dark alongside family and friends after we spent the day together connecting, talking, playing in the sun. Below us, we watch the lightening bugs rise up from the drying summer grass. Above us, the crescent moon bows down toward us and so many others clustered companionably in backyards and parks to watch the evening display invented by people thousands of years ago yet innovated anew each year. More colours, shapes, and movements than I remember.
I marvel at the technology today and so many years ago; watch the smoke clouds hang silently in the sky, each a pleasant reminder of the order of the show.
The booms echo into the valley below us. My young, sweet child marvels ‘wow’, exclaiming ‘it’s my first time’. The crickets provide the high notes.
I begin to mentally acknowledge the environmental impact of fireworks, while wondering how we’ll ever explain how it felt to experience them when we’ve phased them out for something more sustainable. I reel sideways emotionally when I think of having to let go of the nearness of my American family when we return to Scotland, or how recently my towering adult nephew was just as small as my own little one.
It was a collective moment of celebration, togetherness, and peace.
The next morning, I learned that in two separate cities there was gun violence during celebrations. Booming sounds on the 4th will forever remind families of those they lost while gathering with their community to watch a simple parade.
Parades. Churches. Schools. Stores. Movie theaters. Night clubs. Another example of the mundane turned murderous.
In this birth county of mine, I feel fearful. I know that for those who are forced to work around systemic inequality and trudge through daily micro-agressions, this fear isn’t new.
I am fearful for my family, myself, our friends, neighbours, communities, and the identity of the nation. In a time when we should be recognising and repairing past wrongs, and present hatred and injustice, the violence, hatred, and division are escalating. Some pretend this vitriol and violence is freedom. They pretend it is what it means to be American.
I choose to believe in the goal of the ‘Land of the Free’, knowing it will only come when all are truly free. Autonomy over one’s own body and life, with access to equitable services, resources, education, and healthcare create freedom, not removing or restricting life or liberty for others.
Americans are from everywhere. They’re even born anywhere. Their traditions, religions, beliefs, skin colours, gender identities, languages, and any other group markers create the multitude of ideas and experiences that tie this vast nation together.
In this country that feels so broken, hurting, and violent, fear could keep us from gathering, connecting, and being visible allies and vocal advocates. How do we move this country away from the path of Land of the Fearful or Freedom (and safety!) for the Few?