My Books

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New Wave

Born in the U.S.A.

Happy Birthday U.S.A.!

Seems like only yesterday you were a rambunctious toddler, smashing into things and throwing tantrums if you didn’t get your way. But now, look at you! Reasoning calmly, debating respectfully, open-minded and bighearted, a nation any citizen would be proud to call her own.

Most of the time.

It’s true we’ve had our share of rough patches. Our comeuppances and cringe-inducing awkward moments. But here we are on the brink of another Independence Day, and, so far, we haven’t completely trashed the place. Yay us.

I could go on about how much work there is still to do, but nobody wants to hear a lecture at a party, so we’ll table that for now and concentrate on what is great about our scrappy happy country.

For starters, it’s still breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve sampled it from coast-to-coast, and there’s a lot of great scenery to be seen. Also great food to try, music to hear, events to take in, and plenty of folks willing to give you the benefit of the doubt before judging you solely on the basis of your hairstyle, apparel or accent.

I like that about Americans. At our best, we are a nation of independent-minded folks who live and let live. Up to a point.

Where we drop the ball, sometimes, is when we expect people of other nations to follow our lead, as if we and we alone know the right way to travel to wherever it is the good ship Earth is headed.

I’m not convinced this is always the case. I believe wise and caring people can be found in every part of the planet, but they may not care to swallow the don’t-worry-be-happy pills that appear to be all the rage in this country at the moment. There’s stuff to worry about, people. And it’s a small planet. Problems way over there will inevitably cast a pall on the backyard picnic—it’s only a matter of time.

Back when the world seemed more united about the fractured border between right and wrong, George M. Cohan wrote his rousing ditty “Over There,” a patriotic tune that cast Americans as the natural heroes of the war of that time. It captured one of the ways we like to see ourselves—as righters of wrong, champions of the oppressed, liberators.

Lately that image has been smudged a bit by the complexities of the modern world. No one’s writing popular songs about Guantanamo.

But we’re trying to do better. And that, I feel, is worth celebrating. We’re still trying to live up to our own heroic myths.

This week we’ll gather in parks and backyards across the nation to enjoy burnt offerings, intoxicants, brass bands and fireworks. We’ll set aside our petty squabbles and take a moment to be thankful for all the things that bind us together under one flag. We’ll even try to sing our unsingable anthem, even if we have no ramparts o’er which to watch.

Yes, our United States will be blowing out the candles this week, but don’t get any ideas that we’re done growing. We’re still a rock ‘n’ roll nation, and we’re just getting the hang of this harmony thing.

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