Thoughts Concerning the Fourth of July

Yesterday I was grumpy. It took me a while to figure out what might be going on: The Fourth of July! This is one of those holidays, along with Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, I struggle with. My father struggled with it as well, although, the truth be known, he seemed to love Thanksgiving. Indeed, many Native people have very complex, often humorous and contradictory, experiences of the holiday. We participate in parades, hold pow wows, and acknowledge the patriotism of our people. We are also reminded of our collective experience of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Later in the day I was talking with a friend whose relatively young spouse has Alzheimer’s Disease. That person forgets and miscalculates. My friend is increasingly a full-time caretaker, and the illness is itself young.

I am told that in many Plains Native traditions, it is a blessing to live long enough to return to childhood. When we were free, people seldom lived long enough to reach senility, but when they did, there was a village to care for them. In the contemporary world, dementia is most often a slow, painful decline for both the ill person and their caregivers. There are seldom enough helping hands and hearts to adequately care for the declining person, or their immediate family. Dementia is also, all to often, a financial burden that eventually impoverishes families.

An elder once said something to the effect that, ” nothing that happens isn’t connected to everything that happens in the universe.” Understanding that took me some thought. I think he meant that there is cause and effect behind every event, even when it is too complex for us to understand easily. I wonder whether, were we able to see all the causal strands, we might be more compassionate and forgiving of each other. I also wonder whether we might take better care of people with debilitating illness and their families.

This brings me to an old theme: forgetting. The challenge for me this holiday is being confronted by the enormity of the forgetting behind it. I attended a few holiday parties yesterday. At the first party, a young man could not understand why I might be wearing a pointedly Native tee shirt. (The tee shows four Indian men, with rifles, looking out at the watcher. One of them is Geronimo. The tee reads,”Providing Homeland Security Since 1492.”) He simply could not comprehend the possibility that Native peoples in the Americas might feel unfinished with history, genocide, or the colonial bent. Another party proved completely the opposite, with a lively and extended conversation about the paradoxes of the holiday. Unfortunately, the tone of the day was more like the first party, unknowing, indifference, or subtle hostility.

This morning, a friend sent out a link to the following blog post by David Walker. The post addresses another forgetting: slavery:

….Many people ask why the legacy of slavery is still such a big deal in the United States.

The plain and simple reason is because slavery stripped blacks of their humanity, turned them into property, and built a systemic ideology of black inferiority and white superiority in this country that continues to this day. There will be no getting over slavery in this country until the humanity of every slave is restored—until the blank spaces in their pasts are filled in with names of children, parents, grandparents and birth dates, as opposed to generic property listings that served as the only proof of each slave’s existence for more than 200 years. And that simply isn’t going to happen.

There are other forgettings associated with relatively recent American history, of course: including the maltreatment of the Mexicans/Spanish, Chinese, and  Japanese Americans, to name a few. Maybe, if we could see the threads of connection spinning out through the universe we might understand the forgetting, and be both more accepting and forgiving. Fortunately, in blessed moments, Grace opens the doors and we catch a glimpse of the rightness and wholeness of the world. We may not see all the connections, yet we know in our hearts they are there.

So this Sunday morning, the day before July 4th, 2011, I write this invitation to remembrance, trusting what we do is connected to all that is, and hoping this small act may bring some measure of healing. Maybe, today and tomorrow, as you go about the pleasures of the holiday, you too may remember, and acknowledge, the suffering, much ongoing, of so many. Maybe you will jog another person’s memory, and the healing will spread. Small acts may have large consequences in a totally interconnected universe.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts Concerning the Fourth of July

  1. Thanks so much for this Michael. I have often wondered why holidays are difficult for me. Many useful thoughts here.

    Many blessings, Rob

  2. Thanks Michael for this thoughtful post, my family is so disconnected from my great grandmothers Lakota heritage but since discovering decades ago our first nations bloodline look at celebrations like 4th of July & Thanksgiving differently.

    • Yes, there is something about discovered heritage that shifts perspective. I find myself wondering what blinds us to the obvious until we discover we are other than we thought. I find myself doing ah-ha’s frequently.

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