Today many of us in the U.S. and its territories will celebrate our independence. It's a remarkable story, when you consider it. If you look at the U.S. Revolution, if you use your rational brain, there's no way the colonies should have won that war. Britain was THE superpower of the 18th century; how could a bunch of upstart, ragtag rebels win?
But win they did, and the world would never be the same. I could make a cogent argument, as so many people have, that the institutions that those early U.S. citizens created are a lasting contribution.
Below, one of my favorites, the Supreme Court. I love the system of checks and balances. I love how well it has worked thus far.
I love the idea of justice and how it's played out across countries, across cultures. I love that despite the miscarriages of justice, humans dust themselves off and recommit to the principles, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.
When is the last time you read the Declaration of Independence? Or heard it read? One of my favorite July 4 traditions is the NPR reading of the document (go here to have the experience for yourself).
When I taught more English Composition, I often used the Declaration of Independence as one of our readings. Most students had never read it, and I was surprised how much more useful it is as a model of rhetoric than many of the essays in a standard English Comp reader. And it provides lots of interesting writing possibilities: write your own Declaration of Independence. Choose a chunk of the text and analyze Jefferson's logic. Talk about how the document holds up some 200+ years after it was written. I always got great essays. Great essays and a chance for teaching a Civics lesson--what could be better in a reading and writing assignment?
Above you see me, my mom, and my dad outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. in 2009. What a magnificent building. Alas, I don't have a picture of the White House to represent the 3rd part of our government. In fact, for a person who has spent so much of her life in the D.C. area, I have very few pictures, at least very few digital pictures.
I used to make pilgrimages to the Archives building. I loved seeing the original documents. You may remember me as the one weeping quietly off to the side.
What is it about original manuscripts that moves me so much? I had a similar reaction to seeing the original manuscript of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Something about the actual paper, the handwriting, just makes me emotional.
Will we ever feel that way about computer files?
Above is a picture of the Library of Congress. How I love a country that has taken such care in cataloguing its literature! Thomas Jefferson had many faults, but his contributions to humanity were many--including the beginnings of this great library.
Below, a much more recent monument, the Air Force Memorial at the Pentagon. We went to a wonderful concert during the summer of 2007, just after the Memorial was open to the public. We heard service bands play. It was amazing. It was free, as so many events and museums are in the D.C. area.
This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard a story about military service people taking the oath of citizenship today. I love to hear stories of how people came to this country, whether it's recently or long ago. I love the passion that people have when they talk of yearning to be a citizen. I love remembering that despite the faults of the U.S., this country has so much to offer.
I love this picture of a flag and a life preserver. I often wish that our country could do more to hold out a life preserver to oppressed people across the globe. But it's good to remember that our history serves as a life preserver of sorts, a beacon of hope to so many.
A poet, a scholar, an administrator, a wanna-be mystic--always wrestling with the temptation to run away to join an intentional community--but would it be contemplative? social justice oriented? creative? in the mountains? in the inner city?--may as well stay planted and wrestle with these tensions and contradictions here, at the edge of America.