Those of you who know me, have heard me say, "when you work at the Vatican you have to work Christmas Eve; and when you work at the National Archives, you have to work July 4. At the home of the Declaration of Independence, Independence Day is never a day off.
It shouldn't be just a day off for you either.
I don't mean that you have to work on this National holiday. But unlike other days off, you have a to-do list, my American friends.
It begins with flying the flag.
When I was growing up in Catonsville Maryland, my dad and our next door neighbor Uncle Bud would compete to see who would have their flag out first on the Fourth. You can't fly the flag in the dark without proper illumination, so sunrise was when the starting pistol went off. I remember my dad, still clad in striped shorty pajamas, with his Churchillean body and his skinny legs stretching skyward to affix Old Glory on the porch. The results of the competition was often a tie, but that gave these WWII guys the opportunity to do what I think was the hidden purpose of the race, to be the first to wish each other a happy 4th of July.
They were from a generation that had learned that our national survival is not inevitable. While the laws of physics don't change, the laws of nations are manmade and subject to the folly of the human psyche. Mom and Dad's generation was not about to take anything for granted. They knew what the flag meant to real patriots. They had defended it and they were gonna fly it.
And up and down our street, and on every street in my home town, Old Glory was flying. I was born just 5 years after the end of World War II and the pain and sacrifice of those years were still fresh in the minds of our family, friends and neighbors. Their reaction was not resentment, but honor and tribute. That's what those flags meant to them.
Oh, and this please. When the Stars and Stripes comes down the street in your home town parade tomorrow, stand up, take off your hat, and put it over your heart. Do it as many times as you see it come by. Your kids will watch and someday, if not tomorrow, they will do the same.
And that brings me to the second item on the to-do list.
Talk about our history with your kids.
All of our history. If you need help, the public library is filled with age appropriate books to add to bedtime reading. You might learn something too.
Boring? Act out the stories, try different voices, and employ an occasional funny hat. Do you think your kids would know about Alexander Hamilton had his musical not been in rap?
The last item is the easiest. Traditions.
Much like our other National holiday, Thanksgiving, the traditions are the best part. They will be enforced by the younger generation with precision and devotion long after we're gone. Where we sit for the parade and fireworks, what's the cookout menu, who brings the baked beans, how many hot dogs, crabs, lobsters (fill in the blank) do we need?
And just think how easy it would be to slip in a new tradition or two this year.
Put the flag up as a family (need one or a new one? Still time to buy.) Make it a big deal. Because it is.
And maybe a little history? With the disclaimer that it is a mixture of legend and fact, how about The Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Don't recite the whole thing. Just Google, print out. and choose the verses with the highlights. Save for next year!
Through a mixture of choice and chance, I will
be flying home on July 4th this year. Ironically my route will take me from England to the US. A much faster transit than the colonists, but a no less purposeful trip home. This Yankee Doodle Dandy will look forward to seeing the landing lights at JFK.
So I close by wishing you all a Happy 4th of July. To my British family and friends, no hard feelings. Thanks for the language, fish and chips, and Mick Jagger. Oh, and from the Welsh, song, poetry, and family love. It is tradition that makes us who we are.
May we never forget to celebrate all we have and to awaken with the pledge to make it even better.