Finding joy in the spirit of America, Independence Day 2017

by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 7/2017

In June, I decided I wanted to run a column for Independence Day and started working on it two weeks out. Then, the writer’s block set in. The problem – balancing a “feel-good” piece about the celebration of our independence at a time when it seems disingenuous to be celebrating anything.

This Independence Day feels different, doesn’t it? Sure, the country changes every day — and has since the start — but the changes this past year have been dramatic, blindsiding, and seem to fly in the face of what America is SUPPOSED to be all about.

It’s difficult to celebrate all that is good in this country when the news out of Washington seems worse and more over the top every hour, while 20-30 million people might be losing healthcare, evidence of Russian interference in our election and behind the scenes collusion becoming more compelling every day, and our leaders, to put it delicately, seem a bit out of touch with those people that elected them.

Like so many others, I am deeply concerned about current events in the United States, our standing in the world, and our future.

So I have been struggling for two weeks not to write something hypocritical. Anything I wrote about the “spirit of America” felt forced or cliché.

I have not lost faith in our country – America is an idea, and I still believe we are a shining beacon of hope to the rest of the world despite anything you might’ve heard otherwise. I love this country, the IDEA of America, what we are *supposed* to stand for, and that people come HERE to escape persecution, to find a better life, to find hope, and freedom.

So I found myself determined to get back some of my, I don’t know, *Joy* in being an American. No easy task as everything in 2017 seems so negative and so contrary to the American ideals.

And I am reminded that the United States of America is modern civics and still a work in progress, a 241 year experiment in a bold new form of government.

Encouraged, I thought… Where to find the American spirit? I started with unplugging — except for an hour of two each night I turned off the news. Enough of the bad news, enough of the tweets, enough of the worry, and just for a little while, let others worry about all the negativity broadcast nightly on our TVs.

July 1, we headed with family to the Hingham community festival and enjoyed a happy crowd and music, food, dancing, and fireworks. July 3, we were in Quincy for the annual family cookout with a few dozen friends, great conversation and great food, and then joined hundreds of others for the bonfire and fireworks. On Independence Day, we headed north to Maine to beautiful Ogunquit – we tried Flo’s hot dogs for the first time (delicious!), we talked to people, we enjoyed a day at the beach, ate ice cream, enjoyed spectacular fireworks and then walked the village.

And – icing on the cake — in Ogunquit, the DJ shut off the music and a young man began the National Anthem a cappella. Everyone stood. Even the kids. And less than halfway into it – people starting singing along. LOUDLY! Really! It was awesome. And I got goosebumps.

At each of these events – I saw America. Countless people wearing red white and blue shirts clothes, or flag-printed attire. The American flag flying proudly or attached to people’s houses – EVERYWHERE! Red white and blue bunting and little flags – everywhere!

I found that American spirit I was looking for!

Each place we went – people of all creeds, races, sexual orientation, walks of life – gathered for a party. People with families, couples, young and young at heart, everyone with the same goal – having an enjoyable day with friends and loved ones or strangers – being part of the celebration.

What better way to celebrate our freedoms, our independence, our way of life? All three events were very populated – and we live in frightening times where large gatherings can be a target – and people came out anyway. They came to the beach, they came to the fireworks displays, and judging by all the posts by friends on Facebook, it was pretty much that way EVERYWHERE – people were LIVING LIFE. They went where they wanted to go. Countless people turned out at city and community Independence Day events.

Isn’t that a perfect slice of American life? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? We have all this freedom and beautiful country with that magnificent red white and blue Hingham Fireworks 2017 Gillisflying everywhere. And I saw so many instance of people just enjoying life, enjoying America.

THAT, my friends, is what I was trying to find. The news about America has been SO depressing, and yes, we MUST remain vigilant and fight for our rights, to protest, to email and write and show up and vote and continue this nationwide discussion on so many topics. The promises of the Constitution MUST be kept.

But every day doesn’t have to be a battle, a fight, a day of hand-wringing and concern. And what better day than Independence Day to restore your hope in this country to just go out and interact with people. To realize that it’s not all doom and gloom, our country is still here, and we have so many reasons to celebrate it.

That joy can be found EVERY day.

From what I saw last weekend, the American spirit and dream is still very much alive, embodied by so many people just celebrating, interacting, working, just LIVING, and actually showing that they are still proud of this country, happily celebrating AMERICA.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I saw it EVERYWHERE last weekend.

Happy Birthday America!

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