July 4, 2012

On [being out of the country on] Independence Day.

A photo I took on July 4, 2008 in Albany, Oregon.

Today marks my second 4th of July spent out of the country, though not consecutively.

The first was in 2003. I was in Peru hanging out with my dad and my cousin Tina. I think we had a barbecue with some other Americans. I remember having to remind myself it was a holiday, and also distinctly remember noticing the absence of fireworks.

Independence Day was one of my favorite holidays as a kid. The reasons varied as much as the fireworks we shot off. It was summer, which meant no school and no assignments assigned over the holiday break. Summertime promised great weather. Summers in Oregon are perfect. Any of you Oregonians who disagree need to spend a summer in Missouri, and then you’ll agree with me.

The food! The steak and other barbecue delights that go along with the 4th of July sure made this carnivore happy. Not to mention eating watermelon, blueberries, peaches, and other mid-summer ripened fruits until our bellies ached.

And two words: strawberry shortcake.

The only thing more exciting than the food was the FIREWORKS! This pyro-kid loved fireworks. I was probably more timid around them during the actually lighting process than I like to admit, but I definitely enjoyed watching them. The fountains. The sparklers. The popping, jumping-ones. The loud, whistling-ones. The illegal bottle rockets (that the neighbors set off, of course!). Living out in the country meant that we enjoyed a few more fireworks than the city-folk. I think sometimes we were celebrating our freedom to set off explosives more than our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe pursuing happiness can sometimes look like setting off fireworks with your family and friends on a hot summer night, while eating steak and strawberry shortcake.

This holiday is so much more serious when you’re older. It seems tainted by never-ending arguments about politics, nationalism, and patriotic worship.

But maybe this isn’t a bad thing. 

Maybe the freedom to discuss these things is at the core of what this holiday represents. 

Freedom of speech to say whatever you want about the government without fearing retribution. Freedom of the press to tell the people the goings-on of elected officials. (And the freedom to decide whether or not we believe what the press is telling us!) Freedom of religion to worship who you choose, in the manner you choose.

I must admit I’m not sure how to react to this holiday when I’m currently in a country known for not being particularly fond of America. However, no matter what side of the ocean I’m on, I can be proud of several things my country stands for: freedom, family, food and even fireworks.

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