Monday, July 6, 2009

Celebrating Sarah

I am not very happy with how our country celebrates Independence Day. Fireworks are pretty but I enjoy the serenity of a lake much more than squiggly lines of color or big booms. Considering the amount of debris that ends up in our country's lakes due to fireworks and the effects that the big booms have on the wildlife ... a quiet time of reflection is more to my liking.

It also seems that we celebrate the wrong things during this holiday. Our parades and floats are filled with remnants of war: veterans, weapons and flags. Jet fighters fly by all day. I acknowledge the importance of these things and the sacrifices that are involved, but they have their own holiday in May. War is NOT what is great about America, our Independence is. Our country's great documents like The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers and The Constitution were put together by the geeks of 18th century. Many of them didn't even fight in the war. Shouldn't we be celebrating geeks on Independence Days, not war heroes? War is something that we do to maintain our Independence and way of life, hopefully, as a last resort. It is not a good thing, it is a necessary evil. This is not something that is good about America. I understand that freedom is not free, I get that, I just resent having the idea beaten over my head like it is.

Why has war become so much of a focus of Independence Day? July 4th, 1776 is the date that we signed the Declaration of Independence. Shouldn't it be a day that we celebrate boldness or bravery in spirit, not so much in war but in deeds ... in innovation? Geekiness? Shouldn't we be celebrating Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or even Susan B. Anthony or Arthur Miller on this day? Not the guys down at the Elk's Clubs? Why aren't scientists, business leaders, writers and/or journalists being put on pedestals as great patriots on Independence Day? Surely, our independence means more to us than a 19th cannon or the 1812 Overtures (composed by a Russian).

Why aren't we celebrating Sarah Vowell? I ask this question today because when I hear Sarah Vowell speak or read from her journals, I hear such amazing reverence for America in her voice. I just shake my head and think what a wonderful country this is. Her books are amazing. Isn't Fourth of July the perfect day to celebrate Sarah?

I just heard a piece by her on NPR's This American Life (one of my favorite podcasts). It was about the Maquis Lafayette. In 1824, President Monroe welcomed Lafayette back to America for a visit. He hadn't been here since his days in the Revolutionary War. He was only 19 when he originally came to America in 1777. He was an unpaid volunteer in Washington's Continental Army. His charisma earned him much accolades. George Washington claimed that he wanted to adopt him. He was a pen pal of Alexander Hamilton. Lafayette's welcome party was probably the biggest party ever thrown, proportionately, in America. At a time when the population of New York City was 120,000 people, 80,000 people showed up to greet him. Sarah says his arrival not only saved Independence Hall in Phillie but he kissed Walt Whitman as a child. What an amazing country we have! Thanks Sarah for sharing this. I only wish I heard this a couple of days when I was reflecting on America while my neighbor's fireworks were keeping me awake.

I am not going to regurgitate everything she says in her piece. You can hear the whole thing on This American Life's web site. Her piece starts at around 49 minute mark and is only 9 minutes long. I just want to let you all know that when you are celebrating the war heroes during the 4th of July ... I am celebrating Sarah ... (and other innovators like her) ... and the country that produced her and her awesomeness. That is my America.

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