To all those readers outside the United States, I say: Guess what? It’s America’s birthday!
To all those inside the United States, I say: Happy Fourth of July! Don’t set off fireworks into your neighbors’ trees!
For me, America is the land where my parents live. It’s writing words in the air with sparklers on a warm summer’s night. It’s running around with the other neighborhood kids catching lightning bugs (and occasionally feeding them to the local bullfrog). I see an American flag, and I think of performing with my high school marching band. America is the place where I spent my childhood.
As an adult I still identify as an American, but this modern America is not the same country where I rode my bike to UDF for ice cream. It’s a place where a crazy person can walk into a Colorado movie theater and create a slaughterhouse. In this America, when you go to a restaurant you see half of the patrons giving more attention to their smartphones than the person sitting across from them. We distrust our politicians, we isolate ourselves from one another, we place our faith in drugs and alcohol.
American films present a view of our country that is equally skewed. The Patriot depicts the American Revolution as one man’s war against the eeevil British solider who (for no apparent reason) killed his family. Django Unchained gave us the Civil War with a righteous ending, but one that is soaked in blood and anger. So many of our popular films which deal with America are violent.
But maybe the America I remember never really existed except in a child’s mind. Like a personal movie, maybe this is just a story I constructed in my mind to explain why I was so happy as a child.
I realize this is a depressing post on America’s birthday, but I think we need a few somber moments on days like these– lest they become mired in food and alcohol. I am an American. No matter where I go, I will always be an American. But I am worried for my country.