05 July 2013

The 5th of July

I noticed the flags planted along the neighborhood sidewalks yesterday. Normally I'm out for a walk a lot earlier in the morning and beat the Boy Scouts on patriotic holidays. On a day that should be a holiday but, for me, had turned into an attempt to get caught up on some work, I noticed the flags, pole-straight and ruffling in the hot July breeze. And I felt gratitude for the flag and that so many waved today. But little else.

Last night I sat with a friend and gazed up into a black sky exploding with color. The best fireworks show I've ever seen. We sat on a grassy curb, surrounded by families and groups, with country music playing in the background and shouts of "America!" erupting whenever one of the larger fireworks went off.

This was it; this booming, laughing, shouting, singing, glo-stick-waving, firework-flaring scene. The epitome of 4th of July celebrations. Yet as I craned my neck upward, a soft disappointment hovered inside me. Disappointment because it all seemed vaguely empty and insincere. No, not it... I.

I sat here watching a night sky awash in color; and yet, what thought had I given today to the reason for the fireworks, the flags, the Brooks & Dunn tracks? What had I done yesterday, or the day before, to earn this enjoyment? Would I do anything tomorrow, or the day after, to remember it?

I wondered how many in the throngs around me had taken a moment to read at least part of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or to meditate on the meaning behind the bright lights and flying flags. I certainly hadn't. And it left the day, the celebration, feeling empty and unsatisfying. And it was my own fault.

I drove home an hour later and looked in the direction of my neighborhood. And I wished, as I looked into the blackness, that the flags would not be gone tomorrow. That, perhaps, I'd get another chance to really appreciate them. Knowing it wouldn't be so; the Boy Scouts do their job well.

I went for a walk again this morning. Later than usual. But the neighborhoods were hushed and still. Only one or two other people shared the morning with me. And they, too, seemed to sense the post-party peace and worked in their yards slowly, their voices muted. Another summer morning, the festivities of yesterday soon to be forgotten. All that remained were the smoked remnants of firecrackers and fuses on the sidewalk. Independence Day had been tucked away as quickly as it had passed.

I walked and thought for a couple miles. And then, as I looked up to get my bearings, I saw them.

Two flags still planted in the grassy curb of someone's front yard. Breathing in and out in a limp breeze. No one to see them; no fireworks to hail them; no day to celebrate them. Just standing. Still standing.

And then, a little further down, another. And one more after that.

A little thrill lifted in my chest. I was the only one to see. And yet I could have not even come this way. And they would still be flying. I felt a sudden gratitude for the occupants of these two or three houses on this particular street. Or for the Boy Scouts. Or for whoever was responsible for this, be it deliberate or oversight.

Some of us put flags up on the 4th of July out of patriotism. Some of us, because it is expected. Some of us don't even bother; it's just one more thing to do. The flags that fly on the 4th are fitting. But today I appreciated much more the flags that still fly on the 5th, on the 6th, in August and December and April and June. Those that fly when there is no celebratory breeze to fan their folds, no threatening blast of smoke and fire to wave against, no cheering crowds and popping colors, not even one person to notice. The flags that still fly on the 5th of July are, perhaps, even more patriotic than their holiday counterparts.

At least, to me, they meant much more. Let them fly more often. Think of them more often. Appreciate them more often.

Thomas Paine warned against summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. And, I regret, I have been one such. But there are others who still fly their flags today. And will tomorrow. There are those for whom patriotism is not a one-day reminder but a daily job, love and awareness. Millions of those have died so millions of me can enjoy fireworks and flags for free, in peace, and awake to the same freedom and peace on July 5th too. And today I stand corrected and grateful for them. For the legacy of this, my country. For the God who brought her forth and has preserved her for her patriots despite mankind's bumbling blunders and gives people like me so many gifts and chances to appreciate it all. For those who fly their flags today too.

Freedom doesn't need to always ring. It doesn't even need to wave. Sometimes it just needs to stand. No, not sometimes. Every day. In every heart. That is how it survives. That is why it is preserved. This country prospers because of the patriots. And too often, I fear, those everyday patriots bear a disproportionately heavy part of the citizens' responsibility to God and country.

So today, on July 5th, I resolve to be one more reason for America to prosper. One more sentinel. One more prayer. One more support.

I have taken a lesson from you, quiet, everyday patriots. Thank you.

Find last year's less late tribute here.

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