4th of July Wasn’t So Simple This Year

This was, for me, sort of a tricky 4th of July to contemplate celebrating. I mean, this is a year where, for example, NPR was openly criticized for tweeting the Declaration of Independence:

I didn’t feel anti-American exactly this July 4th – but I also didn’t feel much like celebrating how great this country is – because it’s just not right now. I hope very much that this is a moment in time that will pass – a sort of tipping point, after which things (culture, discourse, politics, etc) will swing to a better, more compassionate, more positive place. But we’re not there yet – and nothing is a given. And that’s scary.

And it lent an awkwardness to what is usually the most carefree and relaxed of American holidays.

Rolling Stone article I ran across summed up my feelings pretty well:

“How do you love a country where nearly half the people who went to the voting booth chose a man who campaigned on fear and hate? How do you love a country where the majority of our elected representatives are arguing over how many millions of its citizens should have their health care stripped from them?”

~Jesse Berney, in Rolling Stone online, 7/3/17

I do agree with the conclusion of the article, which is:

“How can we be patriotic in Trump’s America?

We can because we have to. Our deeply flawed Founders were fighting injustice, and so many have given up so much to expand and continue that fight. White supremacy is real. Sexism is real. Homophobia and xenophobia are real. And when we fight them, we are loving America because we are striving for that more perfect Union we all deserve.

So this Independence Day, don’t shy away from patriotism. Embrace it. Make it yours. Declare your love for America by promising to fight every day to make it better, to resist our repugnant president and everyone who supports his regressive agenda.

Make the pie. Enjoy the fireworks. Celebrate America’s 241st birthday in style. And recommit to fighting President Trump and his agenda, because you are what makes America great.”

I in fact completely agree with this approach to patriotism…but I couldn’t yesterday quite get myself to the pie & fireworks place. It just didn’t feel right.

But yet, I wanted to do something to mark the day – as did my ex and our kids.

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We finally decided that, as we’re living in greater-Richmond, VA, now, the seat of so much pivotal American history, maybe we could delve a little bit into that this July 4th. We could maybe have a more thoughtful Independence Day holiday, rather than the usual “party” thing. (And then come home and have some flag cake!)

That felt…interesting.

So then we had to decide what to do…which wasn’t easy! We have a lot of choices around here, if we’re aiming for the historical: from Monticello and Montpelier, both about on hour west of us, to Williamsburg and Jamestown, both about an hour east. And then Richmond itself is full of sites we haven’t explored yet, or just barely scratched the surface of – like the excellent Virginia Historical Society museum and the church where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech. And lots and lots more!

We ultimately determined to go with Henricus Historical Park: a living history site on Richmond’s southern side. It was founded shortly after Jamestown, way back in the early 1600s, and showcases not only the English settlers, but the Powhatan natives of the area. (Of which Pocahontas was one; she actually lived at the Henricus settlement for eight months, we learned.)

My eight-year-old daughter had been there earlier in the year for a class field trip and came home with a head full of information about the Powhatans, so we knew that this was a place which at least aimed to be balanced in its interpretation of colonial history – which was important to us. So, even though this wasn’t exactly a “July 4th” kind of a spot (unlike someplace like Monticello, Henricus focuses on a period well before the American Revolution and the significance of July 4th, for one thing!), we decided to give it a try.

And I’m really glad we did! I can say, having been there now, that they did a really great job with the English/Powhatan parallels – and everything else, really. I’m glad I visited. It was a beautiful place to walk around, very hands-on and interesting to explore, and it really got me thinking.

The interpreter who spoke about Pocahontas, especially, and the politics behind her joining the English, was excellent. He encouraged us to email him if we had any follow-up questions – and I actually think I might, because some of the things he talked about really struck me. I love history, but I don’t usually find myself quite so absorbed as I was on this visit – and particularly during that guy’s talk. This really was a worthwhile place to visit.

More on that tomorrow!! (I have a bunch of pics to finish editing from the visit. As soon as I’m done with that, I’ll write “Part 2” of this post, with the details about what it was like there!)

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The funny thing is that I would never have gone to Henricus Historical Park if this was a “normal” 4th of July.

Not that I wouldn’t have been interested (I’ve wanted to visit there since I first heard of it several months ago, actually.) But I would never have thought of it as a July 4th destination. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me. 4th of July is (typically) for picnics and fireworks and barbecues and games…nothing quiet or thoughtful or contemplative. That’s how I’ve always approached the holiday.

But, things being what they were this year, we did go there. And, consequently, I found myself thinking a lot more deeply about this country’s history and the people who lived it and influenced it than I think I’ve probably EVER thought about such things on any 4th of July before.

And I really enjoyed that.

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My kids, in a rare contemplative moment of their own, looking out the window of the meeting house in the English village part of the park:

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