4th of July 2020: Interdependence Day


July 4th was a big deal in the provincial little New York town my husband Rick and I affectionately called Cornball. Cornwall is a hotbed of Revolutionary War history. The Continental Army set up camp everywhere. There’s an apocryphal tale that George Washington cut short a visit with companions at the Sands Homestead – in the center of town – when he was alerted of a plan to kidnap him that night. Rick and I would go to the Cornwall boat landing to picnic with friends and gaze at the spot where revolutionary soldiers put a chain across The Hudson River to try to block the British.

Fourth of July festivities included a crafts fair on the lawn of The Town Hall, a pet judging contest, a lobster festival. People came to the lawn at 8am to put down blankets to ensure a good spot for the fireworks at 9 pm. There was a 5K race through town and a parade complete with trucks representing local farms, the Scouts, the Fire Department, and even a septuagenarian swing band.
But the most enjoyable aspect was the sense of community we felt, gathering with friends and neighbors to cheer as the floats went by. Kids wove between us to catch candy tossed by the people on the floats – no one had to check if it was safe – and threw poppers that made little bursts of sound as they hit the pavement. Later we gazed at the fireworks above our heads on warm summer nights that were also lit by the glowsticks teens wore on their wrists and necks. At around 11 pm, we all companionably crowded Main Street for the walk back to our cars.

I, not much of a celebrant of holidays, joyfully participated in some of the events, even in 2017, a time during which my pride in my country had already taken a complete nosedive. But as the news got worse every day, I greeted the next July 4th with the enthusiasm most cats and dogs have for fireworks. I gave up on the public events and enjoyed cookouts with small groups of friends. Where once Rick and I had large gatherings with people from all ends of the political spectrum, we found it difficult to unite those groups.

And then we moved out of state.

July 4 2020: we have a global pandemic. Here in Florida, numbers have risen alarmingly: 9,000 cases reported in one day. The thought of large gatherings is frightening, especially given the fact that there had to be a council meeting about whether masks should be mandatory in the city since apparently spreading a potentially deadly disease is yet another of our constitutional rights.

Thankfully, the commission voted, 4 to 1, for mandatory public masking in the city. There has been no vote yet on the rest of Sarasota County.  But judging by local social media, compliance in the busy downtown city area is not guaranteed. Yes we pay a price for freedom. The question is: whose freedom and at what price?

The European Union might open up soon – but not to us. Forget the Revolution: Britain doesn’t want us. Once a mighty superpower, we are now the leading nation of contagion and not just of Covid19 but of institutional racism, prison population and jingoist ignorance.

I understand the urge to gather, and I understand patriotism, which, to me, includes speaking out when you disagree with what your country is doing. For years, I thought that was what made our country great. Free speech is part of our foundation, yes?  But now it’s as if we are speaking different languages and a disregard for responsible translators puts us at great risk. The most trustworthy interpreters of our current situation are scientists and medical experts, not politicians.

So fire up the grill. But when you get your groceries, do it online or with a mask. And when you set out the lawn chairs, consider setting them six feet apart for those you are not living with. Because if this holiday is about anything, let it be about community and our responsibility to those within it.




18 replies »

  1. I felt sadness for what was once a fun filled day in Cornwall. Looked forward each year to lobsters, family picnic followed by sitting on my deck to watch the fireworks. Not much to look forward to anymore.


  2. Nice piece. My only reaction is that I think you might be a touch more enthusiastic about the celebration, almost in defiance of the breakdown of a common view of what the U.S. is about these days. Strike a blow for the American ideal as the Founding Fathers envisioned it. They weren’t about freedom without responsibility. They were far too smart for that and knew that they risked their lives to establish a workable country in which the citizens understood that their liberties weren’t unchecked, that reason and civility were part of the mix.

    Unfortunately, the U.S. has a history of anti-intellectualism that is on prominent display these days, along with racism, American exceptionalism, and all the other unfortunate elements of American history. But the Fourth is about celebrating the Declaration of Independence and the vision it embodied. Celebrate that — with the requisite social-distancing norms that we hope will not be necessary for future July 4 gatherings.


  3. I wish I could be more enthusiastic but this is how I feel. I will most likely seek out fireworks and view from a great distance. And I’m not so sure I totally agree with the history of anti-intellectualism although I agree with the existence of racism – built into the Constitution – and American exceptionalism. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Michael.


  4. I understand so much of this, the pride, the sudden lack of pride, the current embarrassment and sadness of what has become of the nation I still love so much.


    • I love this country too. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care. I would have loved to write a piece of vibrant enthusiasm. But I believe that a celebration should have significance. I have so much disappointment and so much hope for this country.


  5. As someone who has helped organize and put on our July 4th event in the past your piece captured the day and how we felt about it. Currently I shudder at the thought of the crowds that would gather during the day and into evening and being present. COVID is like a dark shadow, always lurking in our thoughts and actions as we venture out of our homes. I will wear my mask, wash my hands, take precautions and do my part to keep that curve flattened.


    • I know how much you and your family were involved in the event and you made it such a great time for all (not to mention saving us great spots on the lawn.) Although we do have this dark shadow, as you say, I hope you can still find great joy in the day. Much love to you.


  6. I enjoy visiting New England and see the historical areas. Small towns are rich in customs and traditions. They truly are the heart of the American Spirit. Thanks for sharing a great story.


  7. Confieso, no se escribir en Ingles. pero he entendido todo. Pesimismo y dolor en algunos. Pero les digo que en todos los países del mundo la pasamos muy mal.
    Hay que serenarse y pensar Estados Unidos sigue siendo grande, y no bajen el ánimo, porque en este mundo cambiante por un virus o algo cósmico la vida de todos va a cambiar y que sea para bien. Un gran abrazo de un País pobre.


  8. I think part of your sadness is missing your old home for this traditional holiday. You’ve captured our little town well, as well as the tense polarization that now invades public discourse. Please try to remember that this is temporary. This plague, and the asshat and chief, who has kept us unprepared to face this virus at every step, will be gone in 7 months. It’ll probably be rough until then. But there is light at the end of this tunnel. I miss you. xo Chris


    • Aww honey, thank you. The reactions to this piece have frankly surprised me. I love the new energy in Cornwall and I know there has been resistance to it – as there is to any change. I miss my friends but I don’t miss the place. I love where I am. As a writer (and by nature a recluse) the plague has hit me less than it has others. I mourn for those others and I know I am lucky. And grateful. But all this being said, we can do better and one way is to treat each other like the human community we are.


      • That is why this piece is called Interdependence Day because we do rely on each other. And it’s about community. I loved my 4th of July celebrations there. But we can create community anywhere. And maybe that is the point I should have emphasized.


  9. Thank you for your thoughts and I do see the difficulties in what you are saying, how life has changed, how people have changed. I still need to believe in celebration and I hope everyone still can believe that we can get through this safe and together


  10. ” Where once Rick and I had large gatherings with people from all ends of the political spectrum, we found it difficult to unite those groups.”

    There is no need to unite these groups, however, keeping these groups in civil conversation is the only way we’ll end racism and other divisions. Yes, it’s going to be difficult. What needs to end is the virtue signaling, the if-you-don’t-agree-with-me-you’re-a-racist-baby-eating-Nazi attitude.


  11. Oh my, people have memories – and I really don’t! What did we do in Kulm, North Dakota? Were there fireworks for 600 people? Maybe a parade? I think we lit sparklers on the farm, lit a few bottle rockets, and ate hot dogs. So today, (midnight on the 4th) as I write (hiding from the noise in the neighborhood), I can’t conjure up any patriotic feelings. Basically, I’m an anti-nationalist. I think this piece talks about ambivalence towards our national holidays in general. I try to remember if I’m supposed to buy a refigerator on Memorial or Labor Day; maybe a car on the 4th of July. This holiday has a different meaning to PTSD sufferers, and pet owners. My neighbors stayed home to watch for incendiaries landing on their roof from the neighbor’s misdirected fireworks. It’s good to read this conversation piece and to understand that customs and culture usually begin with the nuclear family, then the tribe, then maybe a town, but rarely extend beyond. The best can we do to get in the spirit is find a red white and blue T-shirt, make some fun food and drink, and at the end of the day lift our eyes up to the always amazing sky.


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