For a moment, the show seems to be over. Then the fresh explosion comes. BOOM! Sound and fury light up the landscape until it feels like a battle in full swing, with moments of fiery brilliance giving way to a continuous background chatter, holding the floor until the next burst.
Watching Facebook is really something, isn’t it?
OK, maybe the comparison’s a little inaccurate. After all, even the longest Fourth of July fireworks show is eventually over. But our national fulmination never seems to end, always finding a new source of fuel. A Supreme Court ruling. An inept political remark. A decision to pull “The Dukes of Hazzard” reruns from the airwaves.
Between an unsettled nation and unsettled times, it can feel a little exhausting. It’s easy to wish for quiet, for stability, for a little time to make everything make sense before we have to go on to the next crisis.
It’s also about as foreign to this country as Justin Bieber in a Beatles movie.
Sorry for that image. But on this, I think even George Washington might agree. Once he got the tune to “Baby, Baby, Baby” out of his head, anyway.
I think it comes down to something simple: America should never be a comfortable place to live.
I don’t mean the landscape should look like something out of a Mad Max movie. And I’m certainly not suggesting a “Love it or Leave It” attitude that urges all dissenters to make a run for the border of their choice.
But America has always been a little more than a country. It’s a concept. A conversation. Even a dream.
And as such, it’s never really finished.
Once in a while, some pundit will appeal to the Founding Fathers and what they did or didn’t intend. My reaction is always the same: “Which Fathers?” To look at the American Revolution and the years that followed it is to see chaos in a bottle, a group of people that sometimes seemed unable to agree on the lunch bill.
Some wanted to save slavery, or to kill it. Some wanted 13 loosely tied sovereignties with little national leadership, while at least one wanted to do away with state governments all together. We were a year into our war against Britain before we could even agree on why we were fighting. Even our Constitution, venerated by many, is deliberately vague on several points – and had to be, so that everyone could think their side had won.
We are a wrangling people, in the middle of a country that’s always under construction. And that’s not going to change. We’re always working out what America means and we always should be. If we ever stop challenging each other, or being challenged, worry.
A free land should never be a quiet one.
Mind you, I’m not saying we have to be a bunch of rude, bumptious yahoos, either. Part of the constant struggle is that it’s a struggle to find a way forward, not just to make noise. There can be respect. There can be compromise. There can be intelligent consideration of the facts (I swear, even as the network news tries to say otherwise every night).
But what there can’t be is apathy. Or complacency. Even the loudest boor adds more (if maybe not much more) than the individual who steps out of the fight entirely.
The conversation has to go on. Even if it sometimes wakes the neighbors. Or, if we’re lucky, the nation.
Enjoy the fireworks. And don’t forget to light a few of your own.