by Benjamin J. Kirby
Somewhere in the deep vaults of the Kirby Family Archive are a couple of great pictures of me, my brother and my sister as kids. There's one of us in the Hillcrest (our neighborhood) kid parade, going up to the school to stand around on the 50-yard half football field looking goofy along with every other kid in the neighborhood. One year I was the Poison Ivy Kid -- because it was the summer I spent insufferably covered in the stuff. My brother was something equally creative with respect to poison oak. My little sister, as I recall, was a bottle of calamine lotion.
There's another really good one that's a close-up of my sister, really young, in profile. She's got an American Flag painted on her cheek.
Whenever Independence Day rolls around, it always represents just that -- independence, though in a different, more personal way. As a kid, it was the perfectly defined summer holiday: after all, what is better than the independence from the tyranny of elementary and middle school? And I think for my family -- and, I'd guess, the families of Hillcrest, our middle-class neighborhood in Little Rock -- it signified a smaller independence than the historically significant freedoms fought for and won by our Founding Fathers. Independence from the direct effects of the problems of the larger world, sure, but writ small, on the local, neighborhood stage. Independence, if only for a day, from worry about gas prices, jobs, the economy, war, food shortages, population explosions, droughts, famine. I grew up in the 70s. In so many respects, the more things change, the more they stay just the same. And maybe for my parents -- who were and still are as intelligent and savvy a couple as you are likely to meet about politics and what's happening in the world today -- it signified independence from the burden of that knowledge as well.
The Fourth of July. Just a day you could dress your kid up like a goofball and march him up and down the street, have a laugh. Screw the empty gas-tank in the car, you'll put five bucks in tomorrow. Damn the prices, you'll grill steaks for dinner. Maybe drink a couple of Miller High Life's and watch Mom panic while you shot off bottle rockets to impress the kids. Give them sparklers and those stupid ash-producers that leave burn marks in your sidewalk for the rest of the summer. Come on, it's the Fourth of July.
As I think about the kid parade and Hillcrest, it dawns on me that Independence Day really has nothing whatsoever to do with "independence" -- at least not in the modern sense. Sure, there's the rich, exciting history of what happened in 1776, and it is important and beautiful and unique and it should never be forgotten, nor should it be minimized. But I think after more than 236 years, we might say that we -- and this day -- have evolved.
And so I think Independence Day, in addition to remembering the rich and glorious history of our country, should be about remembering who we are, where we come from, and our connection to -- indeed, our dependence on -- each other.
Let's remember that none of it -- not one bit -- is worth a damn when we minimize, bully, or otherwise leave behind our fellow Americans. Not everyone may live in our neighborhood, but the American Neighborhood endures, and it is what we celebrate today.
We should honor our veterans. Alive or in death. And we should work day and night so that no honorable person who has served our country will ever be described with the word "homeless" preceding the word "veteran" ever again. We should welcome these veterans home as they return from these long, long wars.
Let's take the time to remember our near-daily dependence on people like police officers, teachers, and this summer especially, firefighters as many of them risk life and limb in an effort to further contain one of the largest fires the west has seen in some time. Let us not use them as political props -- and let us certainly not poorly use them as political props.
Finally, let's remember that we are dependent on our friends and neighbors. Let's remember this Independence Day that without each other -- even if we don't agree with each other -- the work our Founding Father's did would be for naught. We need each other. And each of us is important. Even the kids with the whiteish pink goop slathered all over, marching up and down the street with a sparkler and the knowledge that summer, and with luck, our nation, is just getting started.