The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I've put off writing all day, largely because I never quite know what to say about July 4th, or about patriotism in general. I definitely have an assortment of thoughts--for instance, I agree with a quote I heard on The Simpsons, where someone commented on how you can "celebrate the birth of our country by blowing up your own little piece of it"--which, in fact, is what my neighbor has been up to all day and which further leads me to believe that it is not fences that make good neighbors, so much, but earplugs. And that quote came to mind yesterday when I saw a man being interviewed on the news, angry that King County (where we live) has laws banning the private use of fireworks (yes, my neighbor is a petty criminal) because, as he said "Americans should have the right to celebrate their freedom. 'Cause it wasn't free." True enough...but I'm not entirely sure that most of the people trying to blow up their yards or their children today are doing so while thinking of all the sacrifice that has gone into giving them the right to do so. Or, in our county, the right to be an ass and break the law to do so. Either way.

I also have the thought that I am profoundly grateful for many of the freedoms that I know I often take for granted. For example, I live in a country where:
it is not illegal for me to learn to read because of my gender
I can go to school...or not, as I choose
I can vote
I can speak critically of our government officials--even here on this blog in public and not be arrested
I cannot be traded like property
I cannot be legally mutilated
I can dress as I choose within reason (very little reason, really, if you look around on a hot day)
I can listen to and read and watch anything I choose
I can love whom I choose
I am unlikely to die from unsafe drinking water, or from diseases that are easily cured
I had a wealth of futures to choose from and, even now at the age of 42, I still do
As a young child, it would have been illegal for my parents to sell me into sexual slavery in order to survive
I have a life expectancy over 70 years...unlike some countries where 50 is terribly old and unusual
I can worship any way I choose, or not at all. It is my decision what sort of relationship to have with God. If any.

In other words, I live in a country that is great in many ways. I have freedoms that other people in other places, most especially women, can only imagine and dream of. And lives were lost obtaining this freedom for me, even more protecting it.

But the flip side is this. I get slightly uncomfortable every year at this time when I see the flags and the stickers and the out loud, in your face patriotism because every single time I read or hear "God bless America" I always think the same thing: what about the rest of the world? What did they do wrong? Aren't we all citizens of the same world? Aren't we all children of the same earth, struggling along the same journey? Are we really better somehow because we live within this imaginary set of boundaries instead of that one? Because they are imaginary. They exist on drawings and in our minds....but I still remember as a child the first time I travelled to another state and realized that there wasn't really a big black line where Washington and Oregon were separated.

I feel sad today because I think of all the people who don't have the freedoms that I do, and sadder still because I worry that when we keep focusing so hard on those thick, black, non-existent lines we make it so those people may never have them. We start believing that we're free because we're Americans....not because we're humans and all humans deserve basic freedoms and basic dignity. We start thinking it's magic in this boundaried piece of land, and not hard work or reaching out or working towards understanding, or even just acceptance of all those cultures and people that we don't really understand.

We also forget that freedom means different things to different people, and that freedom to do a thing also has to come along with the freedom to choose not to. That's a big one. I struggle when I think America is trying to violently recreate itself in countries all over the world instead of asking what do these people need and want and how can we help? And then providing what we can, and stepping aside to let people be their own definition of free.

So that's my dilemna today. I want to cry with gratitude when I think what I've been given--just given, as though it were a birthright. And I want to cry even more when I think how many people go to bed each night without a fraction of what I have. I am, perhaps, a confused American. I can only say this on this bright July 4th, 2007:

May whom or whatever you believe in bless America, and all the rest of the community in our tinier-than-we-want-to-believe world. I said once before that the only way we'll survive is if we hold hands and do it together. Hold hands with someone today. You are free to learn and vote and read and love and worship--and also to reach out to your fellow man and woman. To share the wealth. To recognize that it's not just because we're Americans--we all deserve to be free.

Happy Independence day. Wherever you may be.


  • At 11:30 PM, Anonymous angie Cox said…

    Seeing so many gun-toting men yesterday whilst watching the news ( Alan Johnston) made me shudder. I think we can celebrate historical anniversaries . Guy Fawkes night could be seen as anti-Catholic but is to me celebrating catching terrorists in the act. I just wonder sometimes if mothers of the World could just get boys to stop thinking toting a gun is in any way admirable . We sometimes have to fight as in W.W 2 but you'd think there'd be better ways by now. We rarely wave flags and considering ours combines several countries that might be reluctant parts of the union it's as well. If I see it I feel nothing. David Bowie said "I am a citizen of the World" . We all are sadly as you say so many of our fellow citizens have little freedom.

  • At 1:41 AM, Anonymous MonicaPDX said…


  • At 4:02 AM, Blogger Jo said…

    Interesting post Florence, I wish they would ban the sale of fireworks here, as soon as they go on sale for 5th November in September the kids round here are letting them off most nights until December! happy Independance!!

  • At 5:14 AM, Blogger Marianne said…

    As you well know, I agree with everything you've written here... it has always gotten my panties in a bunch when I hear the words 'God Bless America' when what we should be hearing is 'God Bless Earth and All'. (actually is should just be 'All' but this way maybe more folks will 'get it')

    Oh, and another thing about 4th of July celebrations...the tiny enclaves of fireworks within city limits...the left over debris.. it's never cleaned up, they just walk away from it...WTF?!?!?
    We love our country so much, let's just trash it up a bit more in the name of patriotism? the 'showing' of? oh oops, I got me started.

  • At 11:59 AM, Blogger Sarah said…

    I'm holding hands whatever day :)

    I really enjoy your thoughts. Thanks for sharing.


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