It was the Fourth of July. It was hotter than Hades, and we’d spent the day at Worlds of Fun, zipping from ride to ride. We’d scrambled our brains in the heat, and our bodies protested.
Still, when the sun began to set, we loaded into the car with family and friends and headed out to watch the fireworks. Skipping the evening’s festivities did not seem an option. Watching fireworks is what we do that night, plain and simple.
Exhausted and hot, we parked at the Longview Lake dam. Part of our group navigated a steep hill to the bottom of the dam to the pile of large rocks lining the edge of the water. The others in our group eyeballed the steep incline, then opted to stay on the road at the top of the dam.
My husband and I sat on boulders, our toes dipped in the water. The kids threw pebbles and poked in the mud with sticks while we waited.
On a nearby rock sat a group of young men. They listened to music on a small boom box, bantering loudly. I listened in on their conversation.
As the sky darkened, we could see the glow of tents across the lake and heard voices booming over speakers. We were far from the heart of the festivities.
“Why aren’t we over there?” one of the men asked his friends in a thick, exotic accent. “That’s where everything is happening.”
The booms began. Colorful plumes filled the sky, and the thuds, crackles and sizzles reverberated through our bodies.
“It makes me think of home,” one of the men said, quickly adding, “except there, it’s bombs, and you worry.”
Meanwhile, my friend sitting high above us overheard another conversation. My friend is disabled, unable to work, at the mercy of the welfare system. She keeps close tabs on her many blessings.
“You should have heard these women,” she said. “They were just so ungrateful — nothing was right. The fireworks were lame. The view was bad. It was a waste of the city’s money. They thought they deserved better — and the whole thing was free!”
Entitlement versus gratitude is never a pretty comparison, and I knew exactly where I fit in on that scale. Smack dab in the middle at complacent.
“This is what we do,” is not a horrible approach, but it’s not great, either. It misses the opportunity to reflect on the significance, the big fat WHY that we should not forget. What we’re celebrating and who we have to thank.
That was a couple years ago, and at the time, that was the lesson I needed. Yet this year, the lesson has evolved. Independence Day is a living, breathing holiday, and complacency has no place in our lives. Racism is still ugly, elected officials can be bought, then represent the few, not the many. Justice can be threatened; education can be hobbled.
We’re the land of the free, still a refuge. We can’t keep the peace if we’re not armed with information, voting from the front lines. There’s no acceptable attitude on this holiday except for gratitude, no honorable action other than participation.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks.