It’s quiet right now in Mondoville. In about three hours, Mrs. M and I will park at a strip mall a few blocks from the high school, where the annual fireworks display will originate. We went to the high school itself some years ago, but the combination of the heat of a South Carolina July and the wisdom of age have led us to opt for the air-conditioned comfort and quick return home that the car provides. And it’s not like we’ll be the only ones watching from there — we usually have a few other cars and trucks pulled alongside us, with truckbeds full of kids and the occasional adult. We’ll celebrate.
And there is still much to celebrate about life in my country. Many voices in our media and political culture, both on left and right, seem bent on having us forget that, in the hope that we will surrender our wills to theirs. Our world of instant communication and the far range of social media calls us to the anonymous and self-righteous comfort of the mob. “We’re at one another’s throats!”
But that’s not true. If my car were to run off the road this evening, I’m morally certain that the people who pull over near me would want to help me, not to take advantage of my situation. The people I see when I donate blood don’t care whether their blood goes to someone rich or poor, to someone gay or straight. They just give. When I go to a convenience store, there’ll be a jar on the counter, raising money for someone’s sick family member. Folks who have never met the beneficiary, and who likely never will, put in a dime or a dollar. They don’t ask who voted for whom. I believe in my neighbors, and I hope they believe in me.
And even when we look at the shortcomings of our present and the worst moments of our history, I marvel at the standards — liberty, justice and equality before the law — that we’ve professed, and that we’ve believed in enough to strive for them — or to feel guilty when we haven’t lived up to them.
I’ve spoken before of my own family’s rise, from a housing project on one side and from dirt farmers on the other to where I am now, and from near third-world levels of Appalachian poverty to self-sufficiency and better on Mrs. M’s side. Neither of my grandfathers made it through high school. My father didn’t earn his B.A. until my senior year of high school, getting his higher ed in bits and pieces over the decades. My mom didn’t go to college. Mrs. M’s parents had similar, harsher stories of lives of limited opportunities. But now, both Mrs. M and I work to give other people the opportunities to enrich their lives as well. Neither of us were to a manor born — but the country in which we live gave us the chance to earn a better house than our parents and grandparents had. And every fall, I meet a new group of young people trying to rise. I’m proud to be in a country where they can, and where I can help them while doing things I love, and things that I chose to do, that weren’t decided for me by someone in a faraway capitol.
My country is not perfect — nor can it be in a fallen world. But the world is a better place for its presence, and if we are wise enough to think beyond the cacophony of those who benefit from our fear and confusion, we can make our immediate worlds and the larger one better for a long time to come.
Happy Independence Day. God bless America.