A lot of people went back to the Founders this weekend. I went back to a couple of smart men I've read, too.
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the jailers of Guantanamo, from the keepers of the black sites, from those willing to hand our inalienable rights to faceless men in the cubicles of the intelligence bureaucracy? How is that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from paymasters of torturers?
The time bomb laid beneath history 238 years ago is a time bomb of pure conundrum, and the people who put it there knew that the essential engine of democracy is paradox, noble bluffs to be called, high-minded promises in savage conflict with each other. And they knew that, too, all of them, when they piled the dirt atop the time bomb they had laid beneath history, wiped their hands daintily, and walked away.
Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed and spite, jealousy, and we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we've done. We decided to play God, create life. And when that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.
Every year we walk in a Fourth of July parade. The ferret shelter where we got all our beasties save one sends a marching group each year, sometimes with animals in tow, and for three years now Mr. A and I have put festive collars on Bucky and Claire and taken them for a stroll down patriotic lanes. We're usually near the end of the route, with re-enactors and bagpipers, behind groups of acrobats who stop the entire parade to perform at every other intersection.
Two years ago it was 90 degrees and humid, but we went. Last year I was pregnant and nauseous and exhausted, but we went. This year we had a fussy, crabby baby who decided three blocks from the end of the route that she had had it with our idea of fun, but we went. And the reason we go is that up and down the route, which is about a mile long, people cheer.
Tons of people. They cheer for the animals, of course, but also for the bagpipers and the re-enactors and the tumblers, the mascot of whatever second-tier sports team can be summoned up, for the random people in vintage cars, for the politicians, local and state.
Old and young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Elderly ladies in prim cotton dresses and tatted-up couples with beers in hand. Speaking Spanish and Chinese and whatever bastardizations of English there are in the suburbs, and all of them waving red, white and blue flags.
This holiday's easy to make fun of, like Thanksgiving is (happy we stole your land day!) and Christmas too (goodwill to men, buy more shit!), like everything that's not a too-smart gloomy fatalistic pile of ironic detachment is. Why do we grill out and drink beer and blow stuff up this weekend? What's the point, when our failings, our shortcomings, are all too blindingly clear? Shouldn't we stay home, and think about What We Did? In silence, with the shades drawn?
Maybe, if that's what turns your crank. I'm not here to force anybody to have a good time. What I can tell you is that the public demonstrations of who we are and what we believe take place not because we are already perfect but because we are fractured and fractious and tired. The parades and the fireworks are not stand-ins for the past. They're exhortations to the future, to remember and be worthy of what we think we are.
Maybe your Fourth of July takes place a thousand times a year, in acts of kindness no one ever sees but you. Maybe it's in the dead of winter, during some celebration that has meaning only to your family. Maybe you have a weeklong party this time of year, with hot dogs and roman candles. The form isn't the point. The point is what you're saying to yourself and those around you.
That what we are is worth saving, and worth celebrating, and worth improving upon. Life sucks, a lot of the time. It's harder than it should be, a lot of the time. But people line up, up and down the street, and when we walk past pulling wagons and holding pets, they cheer. And they look like America, and they remind us that while most of the time we are worse than we think, we're better than we think, too.