Thursday, July 3, 2014

In dependence

Following tradition, this day we will find our son wherever he may be, and play for him John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Liam could not wait to be born on the Fourth of July 24 years ago, so he showed up July 3. We celebrate the red white and blue today, and the holiday everyone else celebrates tomorrow has since seemed like dull aftermath.

It was easier to find him back then. We'd wake him up earlier even than he had planned to wake himself, and play the song as loud as we could on his little primary-colored Fisher Price™® tape recorder with the cartoon karaoke microphone attached.

That's how we presented him with this birthday gift when he was three, by showing how loudly it could play "Stars and Stripes Forever."

It's a bit harder to reach him now. Cell phone will have to do, and a CD in the stereo in the living room, loud enough for him to hear over digital space. He's with friends at a cabin for a long holiday weekend he had planned. Somehow, sometime today we will subject him to Sousa.

I don't think Liam will mind if I hijack a chunk of his day to talk about this country with whom he (almost) shares a birthday. Because this country confuses me.

Funny to say that now, with two-thirds or three-quarters of my life done — who's kiddin' whom? — but I thought I'd have a better idea.

Sweet land of liberty. Funny how liberty, and freedom, get carried around, as weapons. One person's freedom turns out to be another's limits. Freedom isn't free, goes the overused aphorism; someone has to pay. Though not in the way that adage is meant.

We wander in retrograde, me and my country.

The Supreme Court this week ruled that Hobby Lobby and other privately held businesses don't have to provide employees certain kinds of birth control through the Affordable Care Act if it violates the employer's religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby supporters hailed the decision as a victory for religious freedom. I don't pretend to argue the particulars, though I find them silly. I note how the freedom of a relative few — the owners of these businesses — means the loss of freedom for many, the employers who would use these certain items of birth control under federal health care. The freedom of some becomes the undue influence into the private lives of many.

This is a narrow ruling, or so I read, though I also read the ruling isn't really so narrow and I can't believe it won't open the door for other monied interests to exercise various interpretations of constitutional freedoms while in the same sweep taking away the freedoms of others.

Target®© stores this week told gun owners they should not bring in their weapons for all to see, in states where owners are allowed to carry them out in the open. Angry moms had to tell the stores this is a stupid idea, apparently; Target™ couldn't see that on its face.

Gun owners couldn't see for themselves this gesture of exercising their interpretation of rights is a bad idea? That they have responsibility not to scare hell out of shoppers, who don't know whether they're gun lovers with some kind of exhibitionist complex, or angry people with easy means and opportunity to carry out grudges.

Last month I helped out a family in need — help in the loosest, most ludicrous meaning of the word: We bought the gas for their car. Which was also their home. For a lot of unsatisfying reasons, we weren't able to help more.

The man in this family of adults works a full-time job, but can't afford a place to stay. He and the other two take turns sleeping in the car. Other factors may be at play, I'm sure, but how can it be someone works a full-time job in this country and can't put a roof over their heads? How is it my dad, a generation removed, worked the sole job and bought a home for his family, and fed his family every day, never wanting?

Irresponsible gun owners overshadow responsible ones. Monied interests trump our votes, better feed our elected representatives — literally and figuratively — direct our daily lives, make up our minds for us, drive our foreign policy, send us to wars, make us poorer in spirit and fabric.

Or so I gather.

That's just it: I don't know what I know anymore.

I read, I listen, I watch. I could be a better devourer of news, but I suspect the ingredients. I distrust what I'm devouring.

Name one thing you know about the United States that you didn't get from some form of entertainment, and these days I include most so-called news outlets as entertainment.

I carry with me a Disney®™-based view of America, spawned in youth. I'm being unfair to Disney®, I know, because it alone didn't establish that idealized state of mind, that "Morning in America," golly-gee-whiz, Vaseline®-on-the-lens, sunnier-than-all-reason, greatest country in the world. Norman Rockwell did his part too, but Rockwell circled back on his national view and reacted to and amplified its deep flaws too.

The news I get about my country assumes that sunnier-than-thou state. It's almost all good, except when it's bad, then we are to gawk at it for entertainment. If it's too hard to explain, news explains it poorly or interviews Scarlett Johansson®™ about her new movie instead.

Like me, you probably get more and more of your daily information from facebook®© — more than you'd like to admit — from people you've only met online. Many share their view of the world, their particular opinions on it; most are supportive; some post inspirational posters, for coping with life. It's a strange meta-filter, because you don't know what — or who — you think you know. You take it on faith that what you're reading is what really is, and you try to assemble a puzzle from these pieces.

I get more and more confused, trying to figure out my country from what I know, what I aggregate. I try to reconcile National Public Radio©®, playing behind me as I write, with the newspaper I'll peruse in an hour, with more facebook®™ trying to sift truth from entertainment.

I wonder if the confusion keeps me — keeps us — from caring, keeps us from knowing, keeps the money in power, keeps freedom slavery. We seem to be going backward from that ideal state.

Or perhaps it's always seemed so. My country has gone through tremendous turmoil, most of which, of course, I have missed. Maybe the scale of our turmoil today pales in the face of what's come before.

Maybe my country is like a curveball, which arcs surprisingly through the air in the incessant battle for balance, high pressure below the spinning ball seeking roomy low pressure above. Maybe we're in the high pressure of this backward shift, and that enlightenment and reason will return.

It wasn't until our daughter Mo arrived in Ireland earlier this week and contacted us — our family astronaut, reporting back from the moon's surface — that I realized, like it or not, she was representing her country.

I wonder what her Irish hosts think of her country, of what goes on here. I wonder what she'll tell them.

Sally Fourth.

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