In the past three years the meaning of the fourth of July has changed greatly for me, since my daughters were born on that day. Their birthday, not blowing off fireworks or engaging in nationalism, has become my main Independence Day priority. In any case, this year I had very little July 4th spirit. The events of the last year, from Ferguson to Charleston, have been harsh reminders of this nation's failure to live up to its promises.
This year I spent the holiday in my rural Nebraska hometown for the first time in years. While I wrung my hands a little yesterday, I was happily surprised at what I witnessed this morning. My wife and I went out to Allen's, the local department store, to get party supplies. Afterwards we drove downtown to the Blue Moon, the local coffee house, and grabbed some espresso-based drinks. It's good to see such local institutions still thriving, and that the downtown has rebounded while the mall has fallen into disrepair. Of course, most of the commerce is going down in the metastasizing tumor of box stores and Applebee's next to the highway on the edge of the north side of town. You can still get away with pretending that it doesn't exist.
We took our daughters to an event at a local park, which reminded me of what's good about my hometown. There was a nice, chill atmosphere of people mingling and saying hello, and catching up with those (like me) returning from out of town. My hometown was really built up during the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, and much of the public-minded ethos of the age has still managed to survive. Some things had changed from my childhood, such as hearing Spanish spoken on a pretty consistent basis. Changes like that are positive in my opinion.
Something else hadn't changed, something I wonder whether it is even capable of changing. In my overwhelmingly white hometown, expressions of patriotism are as ubiquitous as the air one breathes, and thought about just as deeply. I wondered today if anyone in the park with me questioned this nation's ability to live up to its highest ideals. I also got chills thinking about how many of them might sympathize with the Darren Wilsons of the world rather than the Micheal Browns.