Sunday, July 4, 2010

this land is your land

Happy 4th of July.
I have this tendency to get grumpy about national holidays. Not that I think that we shouldn't have them (it's natural, after all, to have communal celebrations), but because they often come with a heavy load of blind patriotism and waxing on American exceptionalism and waving flags and such. So let me say this first: I don't like any of those things. I think any citizens of any country should view their country with a critical eye, and we Americans tend to gloss over our bad parts. I think that does have to do with our sense of exceptionalism, which (wake up and smell the coffee, fellow countrypeople) is a load of crap: we have done great things, and we have done awful things. Yes, we have freedom, and so do a lot of other countries.

Anyway, with that out of the way, in lieu of my normal complete-grumpiness, and in the spirit of peace and grace and love, I'm going to tell you what I do love about this big damn country.

1. I love Philadelphia. This is where I live now. I love it because it's quirky and weird and a lot more gritty than, say, Boston or DC. I love West Philadelphia especially. I love going down to Clark Park in the spring and drinking coffee at the Green Line. I love bluegrass nights at Fiume and hanging out at Local 44. I love the new Dollar Stroll on Baltimore Ave, even if it means tons of people. I love my housemates, current and former. I love the fact that I was introduced to this city by going down and hanging out with homeless people. I love walking through Love Park and laughing at the tourists taking pictures in front of the Love statue. I love the public art in Center City, and I love love love the murals.

2. I love DC. I love it not because it's the capital but because it was my home for a year. It's got free stuff and museums and parks, but I remember it in people: the people I worked with, who worked tirelessly, day after day and year after year, and the people they worked for, the women with no homes, who were often broken and proud and sad and sometimes crazy. I remember it in my housemates, Anna and Jess and Stefani, because we were on this post-college trip together, and it made us happy and sad and cranky and sometimes we had to laugh because we couldn't cry. I remember it in the Capuchin Franciscans, who had us over for dinner and harmonized to "Home Home on the Range" while they were washing dishes.

3. I love Massachusetts. I grumbled about it for years after we moved there, but I go back and I appreciate it more. I appreciate it especially in the fall, when the leaves are so bright that it looks like the scenery is on fire. I even love the winters, which start in November and end in late April. I hate the fact that Westborough's been slowly turning into an actual suburb over the years, and I hope it keeps that weird small-townish feel (we still have town meetings, okay?). I appreciate the education that I got there, especially since I've seen education in other places. And of course, I love my family, who are still up there and tell me that my blood has thinned from living "in the south" (because anything south of north Jersey is "the south").

4. I love Long Island. I haven't been back in years, and we moved when I was 13, so maybe I don't have a right to love it, but here it is: I remember getting a splinter in my hand at Montauk Point, and I remember sitting and listening to music in the Jones Beach Bandshell and walking along the beach during hurricane season. I remember the Levittown Public Library and its massive (or so it seemed then) number of books. I learned to play softball in the fields behind Gardiners Avenue Elementary School, and I learned to swim at Slate Lane pool. We lived in a Levitt house that was almost unchanged, except for a wall that was knocked out to make a dining room instead of a bedroom. We had a big maple in our backyard with a swing hanging off of it and a dogwood in the front.

5. I love Camden, NJ. It's devastated and a post-industrial wasteland. It's got one of the highest crime rates in the country and the highest poverty rate. But I lived there with people who try to be good neighbors, and I saw hope in the form of art and gardens and kids who learned to bake bread in an outside bread oven.

6. I love the Adirondacks. I especially love this patch of 500 acres outside of Saratoga Springs that used to be called Adirondack Camp Cherith and is now called Camp Cedarbrook in the Adirondacks. I learned a lot of things here: how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to build a fire (and how to put it out), how to canoe, how to shoot a rifle, how to kayak, how to belay people on the high ropes...I also learned how to deal with little girls who drove me crazy half the time, how to deal with people who disagreed with me theologically, how to speak up and how to keep my mouth shut. It's a rugged, rustic girls' camp and half the staff are pyromaniacs and tough chicks who won't take crap from anyone. It's where I learned that being a girl is cool.

Yeah. So I love the places I've lived, because who doesn't? Happy 4th. Peace.


  1. good perspective sarah. it's a good thing to love what you are a part of. We shouldn't hate something because others have done horrible things within it.
    Obviously it is a major problem in general that folks divide themselves up and identify by something so huge and general as a 'country'. Our tribal identity should extend as far as the people we interact with face to face on a semi-consistent basis.....or something like that. Whatever, 330 million is too big a tribe. Go Philly!

  2. Eh. I'm extremely torn. I love a lot of places, many not in this country. I like the bit from the United Methodists' lyrics to Finlandia:

    My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
    and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
    and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    This is my song, oh God of all the nations;
    a song of peace for their land and for mine.

    Like I posted on one of my very right-wing cousins' ruminations (she was musing on being patriotic when her country does things she doesn't agree with, like passing socialist healthcare):

    I think nationalism is becoming quickly outdated, and that it's largely for the better. I am ready to move on to planet-ism, system-ism, galaxy-ism, and universe-ism. At various stages it makes sense to have a loyalty to the people closest to us, for survival reasons. At some point it doesn't. On the one hand, I deeply value the freedoms that America offers. But nowadays our choices have increasingly global implications. The tendency is to choose "what's good for Americans" first. And when "what's good for Americans" is bad for the rest of the world, I can't abide that. The people in Iraq or Thailand or Peru are just as human as the people in California or Texas or Pennsylvania. I'm increasingly willing to sacrifice national pride and self-interest (which more often than not lead to imperialist ambitions) on the altar of our common humanity.

  3. @Rebecca: I'm with you on that. I used to sing that hymn with my CapCorps roommates in DC...Anyway, yeah, "What's good for Americans" should be replaced by "What's good for the world." It's a bit like my dislike of "God bless America," because, really, I'm hoping that God blesses the world. We Americans do tend to forget that the people in, for example, Bolivia or Kenya or India are as human as we are and should be treated with human dignity. Hell, we forget that the people on the side of the street are human.
    Also, I'm very much willing to go with, say, "socialist healthcare" if it's better for people. In my book, people's lives trump ideology.

  4. Looking at my comment, I also think I just repeated what you said in different words. Hah.

  5. You know, I posted something last night, and I think it got eaten. It basically said that, yes, I agree, and that much of the time "what's good for America" equals "Hey rest of the world, we're gonna screw you over!" Not cool. I hope nationalism becomes outdated.
    And, oh yes, I love other places, too, like Oxford and Florence and Venice. I even remember Cork with fondness (the suckiness of spending half the night in the ER was ameliorated by not having to pay for it!). I think also, I can't really love places I've never been, so for me, "loving America" is so abstract that it's ridiculous. I need something tangible to work with, here--I've dug my hands into Camden's soil, but I've never even set foot in, say, Iowa or Oregon. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's sorta been my feeling.

  6. Hmph. Dumb computer. I don't get you.