What Are We Celebrating?

What Are We Celebrating?

… today, I’m celebrating tumbling kids and guys with chain saws, and a small town that turns out to cheer those who bring hope.

I’m heading to the 4th of July parade in town.  It’s a wonderful jumble of marching Cub Scouts, amateur hula dancers, the 4H club, people dressed as butterflies chanting “Migration is beautiful”, yoga teachers, Shakespearean actors, softball teams, militant vegans, kazoo bands, mimes, and a host of other specialized and important enthusiasms.

It’s small town, and earnest, and kindly, and hopeful.  I love it.

But I’m also aware of how mitigated my fondness for the 4th has been by events and attitudes in the last two years.  I’m wearing red and white shorts and a blue shirt, have flags out at home, but I’m aware that the flag, like the anthem, has been weaponized, turned into a partisan body slam.

Patriotism has been hijacked by partisan politics for a very long time, but it is only recently that I pause before looking for my flag to wonder in flying it, do I put myself among those who think football players are “sons of bitches” for bringing attention to the shooting of young black men, do I put myself among those who think Muslims are dangerous, who think that people seeking refuge are criminals to be confined and separated from their children.

So, I stand in a shaded street in Ashland, Oregon, under two unfurled flags, captivated by the kids showing off their tumbling, and the guys on the fuel coop float waving chainsaws used to provide free wood in the winter to warm those who need help, and the guy dressed as a recycling bin, and the Booming Broadway Dancers, Baby Boomer Women striking Broadway poses with jazz hands as they march, and the dogs dressed as Uncle Sam, and the employees of the free clinic tossing toothbrushes to the crowd, and the bagpipers marching crisply as the temperature soars, and the several hundred music teachers in town to attend a workshop at SOU who sit on three separate floats playing perfectly, and Oregon’s Senator, Ron Wyden, greeting children perched on the sidewalk, and marching bumble bees representing Ashland, “Bee City”.

Rumor has had it that a great marching band and drumline has been practicing in South Ashland for a few days, so my son and I walk to the area from which the parade begins.  The Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps from Santa Clara, California have assembled at the end of the parade, waiting for the space to add a marching band, a drumline, drill team and flag tossers to the mix.  A single drum sounds clearly, and in an instant the entire group is marching, bugles and tubas sounding out the Star Spangled Banner, the Washington Post March, El Capitan as the drums roll, rifles fly, flags twirl.  At the end of the set, the band marches silently as the drums continue, playing a complex, and wonderfully funky, contrapuntal march, thirty drums of differing sizes and tones playing so smoothly that it seems a single drum is carrying the tune.

We walk back to the heart of town alongside the band, catching something extraordinary as they repeat their performance.  I stop at one point and realize I have goose bumps on my arms and legs.  For a moment I have my America back.  I am proud of the conviction and purpose the marchers brought to the day, I am moved by the statements endorsing peace and respect.

I completely understand the intention of the woman walking by us with a large sign asking, “What are you celebrating?”  I get it.  But today, I’m celebrating tumbling kids and guys with chain saws, and a small town that turns out to cheer those who bring hope.

I won’t go to the concert tonight or to the fireworks display; I am content to remember a 4th of July on a human scale.  I’ll make sure the dogs don’t get rattled by the neighbor’s small burst of firecrackers, and remember that we’ve come through tough times before.










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