I had traveled to Brazil to teach a two-week workshop for teachers who taught English as a second language. One day after class, my students invited me to a birthday party. When I asked if I should bring a gift, unrestrained merriment ensued. I wasn’t offended; they often giggled at my American phrasings and actions.
They then explained: “It’s the 4th of July. We’re celebrating the birth of the United States.”
That evening, in a hall adorned with American flags, we watched a documentary about the United States: its beginnings and natural beauty. When the film ended, 250 Brazilians leaped to their feet and cheered my homeland, commemorating the holiday with an appreciation that made my past celebrations seem misguided.
As a child, I viewed the 4th of July as an opportunity to outshine cousin Jimmy. My age, he tied his shoes sooner, threw balls farther, burped longer, and bragged louder. But once a year I surpassed him.
I could run. When my long legs hit their stride, they usually carried me to victory. Annually, Jimmy and I competed in 4th of July community races. I always beat him, and he always said he slipped on somebody’s spit. Then, after the picnic at Grandma’s, I concluded my holiday celebration by running Jimmy down and threatening to poke his eyes out with a sparkler.
In my early teens, I liked celebrating the 4th of July because the carnival came to town. With cherry-picking earnings in our pockets, my best friend and I ate cotton candy, rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, and scurried through the crowds in search of the ninth-grade boys we adored. When we found them, we loitered nearby, striking various come-hither poses. Unfortunately, our true loves, cackling with adolescent laughter as they threw firecrackers at each other, took no notice.
As I aged, the day dedicated to the nation’s founding became a blur of picnics and watermelon, parades and sno-cones, bonfires and marshmallows, barbeques and brats; all ending with multi-hued fireworks that flowered, shimmered and danced, eliciting ooh’s from the crowd, terrorizing neighborhood dogs, and creating traffic jams upon ending.
I enjoyed the festivities, but other than a fleeting feeling of pride as the flag passed at the head of a parade or the national anthem played before the fireworks exploded, I gave little thought to the date’s history or importance.
Then I stood at the end of a movie in a bunting-adorned amphitheater that smelled of wood smoke, engine exhaust and tropical blossoms. I heard citizens of another nation—people who spoke Portuguese, dressed with European flair, danced to a Latin beat, and ate squid with pleasure—celebrate my country.
Standing to cheer my flag, 9000 miles from home on the edge of the sea in a foreign harbor, I realized how far the Statue of Liberty casts her light.
I felt a rush of love for my birthplace, the country I call home.
*Note to my faithful and probably confused blog readers: Running late for a doctor’s appointment, I decided to quickly post this week’s blog, but accidentally posted next week’s instead. Thus you read my “Happy 4th of July” wishes a week early. But that’s not the worst. I then rushed into the bathroom, looked at my hair, and smoothed eye-makeup remover on it rather than the anti-frizz lotion I intended to use. Oh dear.
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