Thursday, July 4, 2013

First July 4th outside America

So it's July 4th. In America, this is Independence Day.

If I was still there, the day would typically start out pretty slow, just the summer heat working on us. Then towards the evening we'd probably eat something July 4th-y. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beans, corn on the cob, watermelon, something like that.

Then we'd head over to the fire department. I'd probably have invited a bunch of friends, about half whom would probably take me up on it. It's become a new thing to do for my friends, but an old thing for me, to go to my Dad's fire department. My dad's been a fire fighter since the year after we moved to South Carolina, so it's probably going on twenty years. When I was little, the fire department had several celebrations throughout the year. I think now they really just do the fourth and Christmas parties, and they have two, one for the fire fighters and their significant others, and one for the firefighter's with children. Since my sisters and I are all grown, I'm not really fitting either guest list, so the fourth is the only time I ever really go to the fire department anymore.

In South Carolina, fireworks are totally legal. The fire department puts some of their budget and mainly pools together money from individuals and goes out and buys a whole bunch of fireworks. When I was little, it was way more amateur style fireworks, but it would go on and on and on for hours. Now they buy near professional grade fireworks, but it doesn't last nearly as long.

A few years ago I went with Tabitha, the year before her first baby was born. Maybe in a few years she'll go back, but her youngest are just 11 months now, so they're too young to appreciate fireworks, they'd just be scared of the explosions. But prior to that one year  that I finally got her to go (after years of inviting her) I usually sat behind the fire department or on the sidewalk. But she introduced to laying down in the grass, near the front of the crowd, so all you can see is the sky. It's a wonderful way to enjoy the show, and I've done it every year since.

We'd get there an hour or so before the fireworks began. My dad would go off and be with his firemen buddies. In years past, they had homemade ice cream and watermelon. Now typically people buy Breyers instead. But you can usually count on there being peach ice cream, which screams summer in South Carolina to me.

I moved to South Carolina when I was 7. Before that, we'd usually pile into Grandpa's boat and go out and watch the fireworks on the river. Or one year I think we went up in a tower. I don't really remember why.  But we were up high, watching it.

And of course, one year of my life, I was in Kansas City visiting my cousins, four years ago now I think, and we had a picnic on a rooftop and watched the display from there. I remember it was only the second time one of the girl's in my cousin's friend group, Tineke, had seen fireworks, and I was like "really??" and then found out she was a missionary's kid and had grown up in Africa.

Now she's my cousin-in-law and they just celebrated their two year wedding anniversary.

I remember one 4th when I was probably 12 or so, I was playing with the other firefighter's kids and we were goofing off and being kind of irreverent and I stopped everyone and said, you know, we should remember why we're celebrating today. And I led everyone in singing the Star Spangled Banner while we watched the fireworks explode.

I also remember years later looking back on that bitterly.

I was a sophomore in high school when 9/11 happened. And of course the patriotic fervor swept through the nation for a while.

But slowly, I think a lot of us 90s kids grew disenchanted with America.

I'm not saying I don't love my home country. But as I've grown older and learned about the politics that run it (instead of just theory from government class) my idealism has dimmed. I was raised to think America was the best place on earth, the beacon of freedom, as perfect as a country can get. That we stood for so much more than just what we appeared. That we gave everyone a chance.

But as an adult, I've seen the gap between socio economic classes grow into a gulf. I've seen injustices go unaddressed. I've seen the bill of rights disregarded in the form of the Patriot Act. I've seen us stoop to lower, less humane tactics and justify it... somehow... at Gitmo. I learned about how we would wait for Latin American countries to elect their presidents in the 70s, then show up and tell them if they didn't do exactly what we said, when we said it, and act in the best interest of America, not their own country, we'd take them out. And then we did. We assassinated the presidents of other countries, not because of crimes they committed or to free people from oppression, but because they didn't want to be our lackey. I was so upset when I learned that and I went and told my mom, who grew up during the 70s, and she was basically like "Yeah... we kind of knew then."

I've seen our presidents age overnight when taking office. And I wonder if, just like the Latin American presidents of the 70s, they get elected with ideals and hopes and dreams... only to have someone tell them some dark grim secret which completely changes everything right after they are inaugurated. Maybe that's why they have trouble fulfilling what they said they would do before they got elected... they're toeing the line for someone.

I know this all sounds cynical and bitter. Maybe it sounds like I don't love America. But I moved to India for love- of my now husband and my God- not for lack of love of America. And I certainly could see us moving back in the future. That's not for certain, but it's a high possibility. I'm an ex-patriot, but that doesn't mean I used to be patriotic and am not anymore, it just means I'm a patriot living externally to my home country.

When I called my friend Lydia the other day, she said my accent had changed since moving to India. "Oh, how?" I asked. She said it'd gotten more exaggeratedly American.

In many ways that's how it works. My horizons are broadened moving to a new country, and it can't help but change me. But it also makes me much more aware of how American I really am, when face to face with all this daily foreignness.

But at the end of the day, America is not my home.

India is not my home.

Those were the refrain that got me through  my move, which is one of the posts (well a series probably) I have yet to write. I was too wiped out when I moved to India to post right away, and then I was too caught up in writing about India itself to ever really write about my move to this country. And due to that poll I had you take, I will rectify that this month.

But I'm telling you now that one of the things that got me through was saying, "This is not my home."

Because it's not. When I became a Christian, I became a citizen of Heaven. And no country on earth will ever be truly home again.

That being said, my earthly home country still has my allegiance here. Just not my first one, my allegiance is first and forevermore to God.

I still have hope for America. As sadly disenchanted I have become when faced with America's corruption and dishonesty, I know there is hope it can be revived. It's a beautiful vision, a country of the people, by the people, for the people. One of the things I've seen most clearly as an observer of American daily life through the lense of my computer screen is that there is a HUGE culture war going on, being fought on different fronts, with many different sides...

But it's still being fought. And until the fight is over, the winner can't be declared.

Happy Birthday, dear sweet America. Happy Birthday, my darling home country. I miss you often, and I wish you nothing but the best.

And tonight I think I'll try to have a hot dog and some ice cream and think of you.


  1. It was really a great read Pam, as if I took a virtual tour in you memories of 4th July Independence. After many days it was post with great passion and memories involved. Thanks for sharing...

  2. Great to read your blog and it's always happy to see your blog post. thanks for sharing this post


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