I read an advertisement today raving about streaming a fireworks show from the air conditioned comfort of one’s living room, where the decibels will be more conducive to the dog’s delicate disposition, and one may be free from the aerial assault of Fourth of July mosquitoes. Apparently there is even an app one can use to simulate a pyrotechnic celebration in the darkened sky of one’s cellphone. If that is how you will be observing Independence Day, I suppose you have that freedom to do so. But if you would like to know why I’d never live-stream fireworks or play Pyro-Arcade in lieu of attending a fireworks display or, better, putting one on myself, the answer is simply that it isn’t American and it isn’t honoring America.
What is America? I suppose the question must be asked in preparing to celebrate one’s country, but the question is at once too general and too specific. It is like asking, “Who is my Mother?” You could answer, “The woman who gave me life,” but that is true of all mothers as it is true of all countries. Then again you could answer, “The woman with the amber necklace who smells of vanilla and cream and tobacco when I hug her,” but those details are far too intimate to be of any help in understanding the mother’s personality, just as it would be difficult to describe one’s country by such intimate details.
I could ask where my Mother or my country comes from, but that would only turn up more questions of nationality, like “What is Poland?” or “What is Britain?”
Is it even necessary to ask the question? Surely the citizen knows his country as the son knows his mother, and to ask the question somewhat smacks of irreverence.
I know my country like I know my mother. She is beautiful and tranquil and sad like red wine clouds hanging over a beer-foam tide, palm tree silhouetted like so many idle laurels waving in the sea breeze.
Or she is the Colossal Canyon, misnamed “Grand,” which stretches out arms as wide as deep, channeled by ancient streams of blood and water.
Her lands are low as the caverns beneath the earth, entombing the very mysteries of existence with the diamonds, or seemingly clipping the stars with her white-capped peaks.
My Mother, whose mind is open like the plains of Iowa, lets the sunshine nourish and fructify her thoughts by the light of justice and truth, until—at last—a late but bountiful harvest of peace and prosperity is brought into the barn.
She’s any number of dark and disturbing forests, where legends are born, live and die, and buried in unmarked graves, like some noble Indian Chief, cut down by a tomahawk like a stalk of corn.
She’s the land between two infinities, the Pacific and the Atlantic, which together encircle the world as the mighty Oceanus, transporting the wealth of all the peoples of the world to her shores, where she mightily sets them to use and good.
And my Mother is of two moods or minds, at once permissive but also oppressive, allowing liberty while disallowing life, magnanimous with mere information but a miser with truth, a woman inebriated by amorality yet with laws as sober as a judge at court, a veritable Tale of Two Countries, variations on a theme of Right and Left.
My mother is this and so much more than I can say, that I simply am silent as the mosquitoes bite my legs, and the dog cowers in the corner between the thunder and lightning and rain shower of light, as a tear of wonder and gratitude falls to the ground, the land that gave me birth.
Come to think of it, my country is my mother.