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The Fourth of July, 2024

Once upon a time, there was America, and it was great, or at least that's what my teachers taught.

Then I grew up, and one by one over the decades of my life, the grand principles of America — freedom, fairness, meritocracy, democracy, and the biggest whopper, "a peace-loving nation" — have been relentlessly revealed as red, white, and blue horse doodoo.

I wish America was about liberty and justice for all, but the only evidence of it remains a pledge that grade-schoolers are forced to recite when they're too young to possibly understand it.

The USA led me on. All through my wonder years, this country was built up as the best, and even after the awful truth was revealed, well, I still want America to be what everyone says it is — that green lady in the water, holding the torch up high.

And now, mere days after the Supreme Court decided that Presidents are above the law, it's Independence Day. The fireworks and patriotism are loud and dangerous, like America. The patriotism is what fuels war, and puts all those white crosses in all those cemeteries.

My head knows better, but on the Fourth of July my heart wants to see something good about my country 'tis of thee. So today I attended a naturalization ceremony, and watched a few hundred immigrants become Americans, on the lawn at the Seattle Center.

It's nice that I could choose it and do it, needing nobody's permission, with no checkpoints to pass through, no questions to answer. I love that about America, and sincerely appreciate the bejeebers out of everyone who's made my freedom possible. 

Getting to the ceremony, though, took me down Third Avenue, where the sidewalks for blocks are filled with hundreds of tents and cardboard boxes, and the people who live in them.

This too is America — the world's greatest economic powerhouse, so We The People could certainly help. But taxing millionaires and billionaires another fraction of a percentage point would be the cost, and that's asking too much. So nobody even counts the corpses, and there's no knowing how many of the homeless suffer and die.

And with that chipper thought, I'd arrived on the Center grounds. In an open pavilion, there were seats for 400 new citizens, surrounded by only grass and standing room for the crowd. As I wandered around, a band started playing "Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue."

To see the ceremony, I would've had to stand in the sunshine, but I'm not a stander and sunshine makes me sweat. Instead I settled into a shaded area where my only view was of the crowd, but the music came through. A fair trade-off, I think. This event was more for the ears than the eyes.

I sat on a Volkswagen-size rock that had been sandblasted smooth and engraved with the poetry of Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, Hildegard of Bingen, and others. The poems seem to have been selected for whimsy, and I liked that, but not enough to write any of it down and quote it at you.

The band was never introduced, or I missed it, but they played a medley of Gershwin, Berlin, Sousa et al, including "The Liberty Bell March," now better known as the theme to Monty Python's Flying Circus.

It wasn't a military band; more likely high school kids, because they played the music without blasting it bombastically. "It's a Grand Old Flag" sounded more like a square dance, than an invitation to combat. And they got a few notes flat, making me more certain it was a school band. 

Then a family cut through on the trail in front of my poetry rock — mom, dad, and a little girl. "It's a Fourth of July orchestra!" she semi-shouted, genuinely excited.

"Lindsey, you're kicking up dust," her mother scolded, and maybe she was, since the trail was unpaved. 

The kid gave her mom a dour look and said, "Well, we can't have that," and rolled her eyes. About eight years old, she delivered the line with a Woody Allen's worth of sarcasm, and I laughed, and the kid's mom looked ready to scold me, too.

After the girl's dust had faded, the band played "The Star Spangled Banner," accompanied by a singer who seemed to lose track of the lyrics.

Then came three speeches from local leaders, all mercifully brief, thank you. Each speaker said the clichés you'd expect, and the Governor sounded especially bored. I wondered whether he'd put half as much thought about freedom into his speech as I'm putting into this half-assed essay, but he's the Governor, so of course an employee or AI wrote the speech for him.

After that came a Native drum session, which was beautiful. It lasted only a few minutes, and about halfway through, without anyone asking, the crowd started clapping in time with the drums.

Then came another speaker, and I was 'watching' only by ear, but he was unmistakably Native American, and unlike anything the politicians had said, this guy was worth hearing. Addressing the newbie citizens, he said, "The Earth loves you, whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist, and America welcomes you, whether you're black, tan, yellow, red, white, or something new woven together."

I could only scribble those few words in my notebook, because that's the point where I had to unzip my backpack, looking for something to blow my nose and wipe my eyes on. What he'd said was a warm embrace in words, from someone who'd have complete justification for open hostility.

Looking around, I saw the crowd a bit out of focus, a sight for wet eyes. A thousand people were waving flags, and some were holding red, white, and blue helium balloons. They were friends and family of the newbies, or perhaps like me they were simply believers in the newbies, and the concept.

Then came a roll call of the countries our new citizens came from, starting with Afghanistan (1 new American), Algeria (2), Argentina (5), Australia (4)… By the time whoever was reading got to Cameroon (1), I was blubbering. Working our way to Zambia (1) and Zimbabwe (2) took about ten minutes, what with all the applause after each country was named. 

And finally, the oath was read by Judge David Estudillo, and recited by 400 new Americans. Each of them renounced any allegiance to the countries they came from, promised to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and agreed to perform "noncombatant service" in the American military "when required by the law," which here's hoping is never.

"… I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God." And with that, the USA has 400 new Americans, applause filled my ears, and I wiped away the last of my tears.

In the whole ceremony, there'd been no prayers. The only direct mention of the military was in the oath, and in a politician's speech, when he singled out one of the day's new citizens who's already on active duty in the Army.

And then I came home, with plenty to think about.

Patriotism is mostly a scam, I believe — a way to convince you that people who probably ought to be in prison are instead fine Americans and you should vote for 'em.

That's mostly, though, and today was an exception. Of all the America I've seen, and man I've seen a shitload of America, today was the very best. There are times when being proud to be American is for real.

7/4/2024   

itsdougholland.com
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19 comments:

  1. Good one, splash THAT on the AVA website, why not? (Eel)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doug, congrats on the AAA splash. That turnaround was like writing for a daily. Fine, professional writing.

      John

      Delete
    2. Thanks, sir. Sometimes I argue or blush at a compliment, but I ain't embarrassed by this one. First writing I'm proud of in, well, too long.

      Delete
  2. Yup that had it all: hate america, love america, personal emotional involvement, and then an attaboy from Bruce...Nice...(Eel)

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  3. A brilliant paean about America's hypocrisy and broken dreams...I played it over three more times, it was THAT good. Narrated by Marco McClean last Friday night:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1z4SN2a62mDpBCy2DpwdWti77-uz_D9Am/view?usp=sharing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was on KNYO out of Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, CA.

      - Zeke Krahlin

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    2. I kinda love Marco's show, and would, even if he wasn't playing my stuff now and then. :)

      Delete
  4. The most unintentionally hilarious and tragic Wikipedia entry:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dream

    ReplyDelete
  5. I often think of that wry, bitter line from Full Metal Jacket:

    "They'd rather be alive than free, I guess. Poor dumb bastards."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That Wikipedia page is painful. Reads like a 5th-grade Social Studies textbook. There's nobody I know who can even say "the American dream" without at least a hint of snark.

      Too long since I've seen FMJ. I don't even remember that scene. Goes on the list. I have more movie time now.

      Delete
    2. Claude Reigns, SirJuly 7, 2024 at 8:20 PM

      Everyone loves the first half, but it's the second half that matters. But you really can't separate the two.

      I remember Todd Solondz mentioning FMJ's structure as an influence on Storytelling, his second best film.

      Delete
    3. Ha! I'd forgotten it was basically a two-parter, and me too, call me shallow but I remember liking the first half better.

      I'd forgotten Todd Solondz, so I just added half a dozen to the list.

      Delete
    4. lol that is a terrible entry, I think I'm going to use that for something.

      In return for the tip I leave you maybe the greatest Wikipedia trivia page:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_inventors_killed_by_their_own_invention

      Delete
    5. That was fun. I'm pleased to see that the recent death of Stockton Rush is on the list. Karel Soucek is the best of the ones I hadn't heard of before. Also enjoyed the guy jumping off the Eifel Tower. Tom Midgley is a favorite, too.

      Delete
    6. The "list of unusual deaths" is a great way to waste an hour: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unusual_deaths

      Delete
    7. Holy cannoli, man, I'm just getting started and that page is already a riot.

      > [Police Lieutenant Christian Bolok], who was the police chief of San Jose, Northern Samar, Philippines, died during an anti-gambling raid. He was trying to grab a cockfighting rooster when the razor-sharp metal blade attached to the rooster's leg to kill its opponent cut a gaping hole in his leg and sliced his femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death.

      Delete

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