“A person's hand holding a sparkler in front of an American Flag” by Trent Yarnell on Unsplash

There was a 4th of July parade today in the small town where I have recently come to reside. Not having been to a parade in years, I figured I’d check it out. This town is much like the town I grew up in more than a thousand miles away in a time long put away and much forgotten.

There were cheerleaders and horses and cool, old cars. I remember being a cheerleader and dancing through the parades of my youth. I remember marching in the band one year. 4thof July parades in south-central Illinois were hot and muggy affairs. There was music, horses, John Deere tractors, Amish buggies, and all ended up at the city park for barbeque and Bessie Bingo. Bessie Bingo being a fun, gambling game of guessing what square the cow would poop on and lots of good prizes too. Later at night, of course, the best fireworks in the county. A wide display of colors and shapes that would go on for over an hour and could be seen across the corn and soybean fields for miles.

Even after I grew up, my husband and I would take the kids back for the 4th of July. My Mamaw always had a party, and my Dado made homemade lemonade for all who came by. All the kids sat on the curb and watched the parade on Main Street, just like we did when we were children; waving small American flags and grabbing handfuls of candy.

I thought of those times today as I watched the parade, and then, an unusual thing occurred…. I began to cry.

I rarely cry, so it was odd.

Today, I cried remembering my past, long gone and people forgotten. My Mamaw’s house a distant memory, my dad cooking barbeque at the American Legion and tipping back one too many Buds, the lemonade, the porch swing… Americana of another time. Not all as safe and perfect as the picture, but nonetheless, a treasure trove of mixed blessings.

Some tears were for the lack of a marching band in this parade, which made me sad. Knowing that the cuts to arts education and music have killed so many programs in cities, as well as small towns, and the gift of making music which brings us together is stripped from yet, another generation so much in need of it.

But the deeper source of the salty, continual flow down my cheeks was the inner knowing that we are precariously close to losing this tradition forever.

There was a sign on a flatbed truck carrying veterans from Vietnam, Afghanistan, WW 2, Korea, Iraq…the sign said, “Freedom is not to be taken for granted”. This was probably the clincher for my tears. I was raised by Midwestern farmers, old fashioned GOP conservatives, who valued scouting, hard work, and doing for others. Pride in country was in their blood, and as it turned out, in mine too. Freedom was hard earned and precious. As a kid in the 1976 Bicentennial Parade, I thought 200 years was an eternity, but now I know, it is relatively short amount of time in the span of history.

And in this time, some 40 years later, 242 years after the birth of this country, I see how things can change. Right now, I feel it, and maybe you feel it too — our freedom IS being taken for granted.

However, many, probably most of the people at the parade today support the current president. They probably think he’s doing what is best for America. For that, I cry the most.

We are losing ground so fast, and yet, so slowly that many do not notice. While the lying and gaslighting continue, we alienate our allies and bed down with those who would destroy us. It is anathema what this current administration is doing to this precious, and fragile country.

Democracy is a fragile endeavor and requires fortitude and courage to stand up to forces that would destroy it. A Supreme Court in the pocket of an autocrat is a dangerous thing. A Congress who cares more for their own interests than the people they were elected to serve is an evil we should never experience — and yet, we are experiencing it. A Congress who will not keep a president in check is a slippery slope. Check and balances are required of all 3 branches of government if a democratic republic is to succeed.

The loss of these precious, so taken for granted freedoms will not come fast, but it WILL come if nothing changes. The people at the parade today may not notice until it’s too late, and the one they followed leads them like a lamb to slaughter.

My childhood was influenced by the nuclear arms race, and a coming of age during the Reagan era. I couldn’t stand Reagan and argued continually with my dad about politics. I was of the first generation of women to have all my reproductive years covered by Roe v. Wade. I never feared that abortion wouldn’t be safe and legal, or that birth control might not be available. I couldn’t figure how a person could call themselves “pro life” and still be for the death penalty, no gun control measures of any kind, and for the nuclear arms race. It made no sense to me then, and still doesn’t. Reproductive choice is a freedom I took for granted, like so many others.

There is still much to be improved upon in this imperfect, democratic experiment. We need good, sensible leaders who understand the wisdom and value of compromise. We need more equity among us. This can never happen if we give away the store.

When our president courts dictators and tyrants and those who would destroy our freedoms, then we, if we are good American stewards and citizens, must stand up, must speak up to protect the America we all love. America, is a “she” — a motherland, a place for the “tired and poor yearning to breathe free”. Not yours, not mine, but ours. Our America is diverse, caring, and oh, so strong as a result.

This 4th of July, I cry because I do love her, and I honor those who have given their lives to protect her and ensure our freedoms. I cry because of the many who’s unwillingness to see what is happening now, only makes us all blind. And in our blindness, we will not see the end of what we hold dear coming for us.

So whisper a prayer, wave the flag with pride, eat your barbeque and love your neighbors — — love the ones who don’t see things the same as you too. By extending your hand, you might find a common love of freedom. What an awesome place to begin.

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