Monday, July 24, 2017

What Not to Do on the 4th of July: A National Parks Odyssey Day 23

Our family hasn’t been in the United States for a 4th of July since 2009.  And this year was only the third year in Knox’s lifetime that we were in the US for the holiday.  He doesn’t remember ever having a traditional 4th of July.  In fact, last year while doing mission work in Brazil, we mentioned something about sparklers, and he didn’t know what they were.  So this year, since we were going to be in the good old US of A for Independence Day, I wanted to be sure to do something, well, really 4th-of-July-ish.
This is the only picture I have from July 4th, 2009.  And it turns out that Josh and I weren't in the country then, either.  We were on a no-kids trip to the Virgin Islands.  So I haven't been in the US for the 4th since 2007.  In this picture, Knox is watching the parade in Fort Thomas, KY with his grandparents.
To be honest, I had actually forgotten that the 4th of July would be happening while we were on this trip because I’ve grown so unaccustomed to thinking about it during our summers.  So when I finally connected the dots a week or so into our journey, I Googled “July 4th events at Yosemite” to find out what the park system would be doing to honor the occasion.  I was disappointed to find that the park had nothing – zero, nada -- online about the holiday.  (Once we arrived in Yosemite, we saw fliers for several holiday events in the park – a talent show, a hoedown, a sing-along – but none of them were listed anywhere online, a fact I was sure to point out to park officials.)  The best I could find online two weeks ahead was an outdoor buffet that I managed to book at a resort outside the park.  The information on the website promised traditional 4th of July food and entertainment, minus the fireworks, of course, since the park prohibits them and the resort shares park boundaries.  But still, we had reservations for red, white, and blue fun.

We woke up excited to celebrate our nation’s birthday in one of its most beautiful places.  The problem was, we had forgotten how packed state and national parks are for the 4th.  The shuttles were packed, the visitors’ center was mobbed, and the trails were overwhelmed with people.  To make things worse, I made the mistake of checking my Facebook feed using the free wifi at the Half Dome Village lounge and found myself frustrated by all of the posts criticizing and condemning our country and emphasizing its many mistakes.  People were griping about fireworks and politics and the admittedly horrible things that America has done from its settlement until today.  And these posts weren’t from my many friends from other countries, mind you.  They were from my fellow Americans.  Americans who clearly hadn’t spent eight summers in foreign countries while the rest of their friends and family celebrated with cookouts and watermelon and flag-shaped desserts and trips to the lake.  And it put me in a seriously foul mood.  Here I was, actually getting to spend an Independence Day in my very own country for the first time in eight years, and all I felt was angry.

Until I looked around me.

I was surrounded by immigrants and foreign visitors.  I could hear numerous languages.  I could see evidence in clothing choices of multiple cultures.  Here I was, visiting a place of stunning natural beauty that was only protected because of our clearly-imperfect national government, and who was here with me?  People from all over the planet.  And guess what many of them were wearing.

Wait for it.

Old Navy Fourth of July t-shirts.  Droves of them.  Entire families were wearing them.  Over their saris.  Over their salwar kameezes.  Under their hijabs.  They even sported American flag sunglasses.  Proudly.  And, to be fair, these people could all have been fifth generation American citizens.  I didn’t make them produce their passports.  But still.  They were wearing things emblazoned with the symbols of an imperfect country, whether it was their home country or not.  And it made me feel better.
When I first asked to take this family's picture, they were VERY hesitant.  But when I explained that they were the perfect representation of the spirit of the 4th of July, the patriarch (on the far left) gave his enthusiastic consent.  Notice both the Old Navy tee and the American flag sunglasses.

These people came to this country – in spite of its faults – because there is beauty here.  They aren’t here because we’ve got it all figured out.  Or because they like it here better than they like their own country.  Or because our government makes all the right choices.  They came to see the beauty here for themselves.  And while they were here, they wanted to celebrate with us.  And they unashamedly wore their red, white, and blue on American Independence Day.
I know this one isn't an Old Navy one, but I promise there were dozens.  And they weren't on WASP-ish people.

And I was proud.  And moved.  And vindicated.

Some Americans act as if we have a corner on the frustration-with-our-government market.  And to them I’d say, you need to get out more.  Talk to Brazilians.  They are so frustrated that many of them are far beyond feeling any sort of hope for their country.  But does that stop them from singing their national anthem at the top of their voices during a World Cup match?  Does it stop them from proudly sporting flip-flops and t-shirts emblazoned with their national flag?  Does it stop them from genuinely loving their homeland?  Nope.

All countries are flawed.  Because countries are made up of people.  And people are flawed.  And it is possible to love your country while being frustrated with its policies.

Here’s the thing.  I try to give people I know a little more leeway on their birthday.  When a friend experiences unfortunate circumstances, I empathize.  But if something unfortunate happens on her birthday?  Well, that’s even worse.  In fact, most of us try to be nice to our friends and family on their birthdays.  So I just think it’s bad form to criticize America on her birthday.  You want to point out all the ways she’s not yet evolved to the point you (and I) want her to be?  You’ve got 364 other days to do it.  But on July 4th, I just want to be grateful. 

For things like national parks (which the US invented, by the way).  For wide open spaces.  For barbecue.  For jazz.  For Broadway.  For squirrels. (Foreigners get really excited about seeing squirrels.)  For drinkable tap water. (You think it’s only third world countries that have unsafe tap water?  You’re wrong.)  For recycling.  (You think all developed nations recycle?  Nope.)  For entrepreneurship.  (You think anyone in any country can start a business if they have the skills and the finances?  Wrong again.) For not having to pay for a virtual private network in order to check my email.  (My spring break trip made me grateful for that one.)  For Senators and Representatives who don’t always vote with their party.  (Ask the Australians the last time that a Member of Parliament did that in their country.)  Did I mention national parks?

That evening, we had a great time celebrating our country.  We drove to Tenaya Resort, ate good food, practiced archery (OK, not a typical 4th of July activity, but fun nonetheless), participated in a sing-along, and made s’mores.  We met some new people and basked in the American-ness of the whole thing.  It wasn’t exactly the Independence Day traditions of my youth, but it satisfied my craving for an American celebration in my own country on July 4th.
Knox and Kinley aim for the target.
Knox roasts his marshmallow to perfection.

Not sure why he needed sunglasses to make a s'more, but there it is.
Dinner included barbecue, chili, and baked potatoes.  The decor was super festive, too!

Family picture!

Knox sang  on stage with the band!

And then on the way back to our little cabin in Yosemite Valley, we pulled over just before dark to check out a lovely little meadow trail.  There wasn’t another soul on the trail, so we sang every single patriotic song we could possibly come up with.  At the top of our lungs.  Even when we couldn’t remember the words.  (Who has all the words to “This Is My Country” memorized anyway?  It’s impressive enough that we knew the chorus.)  But we knocked it out of the park with “America, the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “You’re a Grand Ole Flag,” “God Bless America,” and “This Land is Your Land.”  We even made a brief foray into all the state songs we could think of as we drove back to the Yosemite Valley.  We sang and laughed and made fun of each other for messing up the words. 

And we felt connected.  Connected to our families celebrating elsewhere in more traditional ways.  Connected to each other.  Connected to our homeland.  And connected to all those families from who-knows-where who were proudly wearing their American flag t-shirts in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

And it felt good.  And it reminded me of what NOT to do on the 4th of July.
1)    Don’t check Facebook unless other people’s complaints don’t bother you.
2)    Don’t plan to be in a national park unless you LOVE crowds.
3)    Don’t worry about not remembering all the words.  Sing loud and proud.  Maybe in an Old Navy 4th of July t-shirt.


  1. Fabulous post! Made me cry. I love and agree with every word you said.

    1. Thank you! Hopefully next year I'll remember to take my own advice!