I was never fond of the Fourth of July. I already know the United States is the greatest country around, fireworks don’t impress me and cookouts are weekly events. Anyone who only gets to go to a cookout on the Fourth of July needs more friends and a grill.
So I never made any special effort to socialize on the holiday. I’ve never really gone to community events of the Independence Day sort, either. It was always a “cute” holiday meant to entertain the young. Clearly, the celebrations were excuses for the use of adrenalin-pumping explosives and the eating of hot dogs in the style of Takeru Kobayashi.
I was never interested much in that. I prefer cheeseburgers.
But on a drive home on the Fourth this year, I found a strange truth behind one of America’s most beloved holidays. It turns out people really do feel more about the Fourth of July than just a reason to see some multi-colored pyrotechnics.
On the evening of the Fourth, 56th Street in Temple Terrace was packed. I use 56th to get home, so I had to drive by the crowd, which filled both sides of the street. The people gathered were residents who had come to see fireworks explode over the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, fully equipped with beach towels, deck chairs, coolers and children.
I saw a little girl holding her father’s hand and dancing with a red, white and blue twirler, expressing to the entire world her increasing excitement at the prospect of fireworks. The police were there, but they looked bored instead of busy. For just a moment, everyone got along.
It didn’t seem right at first. On this Independence Day, war was being fought and there was the specter of more war to come. North Korea strained already tense diplomatic relations with the rest of the world by test-firing multiple missiles. Iran postponed its talks with the International Atomic Energy Association. Israel and Palestine are once more at each other’s throats.
At home, there are only 49 operating states in the union, because New Jersey’s government, and thus everything under the purview of government regulation – most notably Atlantic City – is effectively shut down, thanks to the tax-hike demands of New Jersey Gov. John Corzine. There are increasing tensions about the treatment of detainees in the war on terror, which has become a fountainhead for political volatility. The battles that consume the world, both domestic and international, continued unabated despite the holiday.
No doubt, Americans are reminded of the flawed present and ignominious past of world affairs on Independence Day. Fortunately, the present and the past are not the causes celebres on the Fourth of July, but the future. Independence Day serves one purpose more than any other: It reminds Americans of their own utopianism.
It is the prospect of things to come that America celebrates. There is knowledge that the benchmarks of society will enable America to progress onward. There is confidence that the system in place, for all of its problems, is the best one available and will get better.
This optimism is a characteristic that is deeply ingrained in the American national character. Without optimism, there would be no chance to better ourselves or the world.
It is this optimism that allows people to overcome their differences and buy each other hot dogs on the Fourth of July. It is this optimism that promises that the little girl with the red, white and blue twirler will grow up in a better world than her father did.
It is to this cause which America must now pledge its life, liberty and sacred honor. As columnist David Brooks wrote in The New York Times about the history of the United States: “(Americans) never do realize the utopia they initially dreamed about, but they do build something better than what came before.”
Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.