July is one of my favorite months. It is the month of vacations (if we can afford the gasoline), picnics, baseball games and, above all, marching bands and fireworks and patriotic songs. I must confess that I am incurably patriotic. As a tuba player from way back, a good Sousa march still makes my heart beat to its lively tempo. I love the piccolo part in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” The sight of a warm July evening still makes a chill run down my spine.

What I love about American patriotism is that, at its best, it unites us rather than divides us. It is light, joyous and free. It is based on love of kith and kin, not hatred of anyone else. Sometimes I can still hear the echoes of fife and drum, between the booms and “oohs” and “aahs” of the fireworks of the Fourth of July.

The experience that led me to appreciate our unique brand of American patriotism was a trip to the former Soviet Union, several years before the fall of communism. It was immediately apparent to me that Soviet patriotism was “heavy.” There was no other word for it. It was nationalism marked by oversize, dark statues of the heroes of the socialist state, outsized weapons rolling down the city streets with their giant barrels pointing menacingly toward the sky, and marching soldiers with resolute faces. It was patriotism aimed to produce fear and awe, devoid of delight or joy. I loved the people, but I could not love their heavy nationalism.

I will never forget the first Fourth of July after that trip. We were sitting on the lawn, where hundreds of blankets and lawn chairs had been set up by families anxious to reserve a good seat. There were generous fireworks, splashing their sparkles and streaks across a Maxfield Parrish sky, accompanied by a local high school band. The only word I can find to describe that evening was “light.” There was nothing of that Soviet heaviness I had felt so keenly. There was something about the gathered families, the squealing children and the cheerful music that made the falling night magical. That night I became an incurable patriot, and July has never been the same.

My hope and prayer is that our unique brand of patriotism never changes. There is a troubling heaviness creeping into our political life, and we are more polarized these days than we should be. We are still at war, and the news of young Americans making the ultimate sacrifice puts an understandable edge on our celebrations. But I pray that the shrill piccolos of a Sousa march, the booms of summer fireworks, and Old Glory unfurled will always unite us and make us glad for our freedoms and our common responsibilities.

Maybe it won’t be long before we can finally beat those swords into plough-shares. We need to pray for that day. In the meantime, I still love the America I experienced on a Fourth of July night.
July is one of my favorite months. It is the month of vacations (if we can afford the gasoline), picnics, baseball games and, above all, marching bands and fireworks and patriotic songs. I must confess that I am incurably patriotic. As a tuba player from way back, a good Sousa march still makes my heart beat to its lively tempo. I love the piccolo part in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” The sight of a warm July evening still makes a chill run down my spine.

What I love about American patriotism is that, at its best, it unites us rather than divides us. It is light, joyous and free. It is based on love of kith and kin, not hatred of anyone else. Sometimes I can still hear the echoes of fife and drum, between the booms and “oohs” and “aahs” of the fireworks of the Fourth of July.

The experience that led me to appreciate our unique brand of American patriotism was a trip to the former Soviet Union, several years before the fall of communism. It was immediately apparent to me that Soviet patriotism was “heavy.” There was no other word for it. It was nationalism marked by oversize, dark statues of the heroes of the socialist state, outsized weapons rolling down the city streets with their giant barrels pointing menacingly toward the sky, and marching soldiers with resolute faces. It was patriotism aimed to produce fear and awe, devoid of delight or joy. I loved the people, but I could not love their heavy nationalism.

I will never forget the first Fourth of July after that trip. We were sitting on the lawn, where hundreds of blankets and lawn chairs had been set up by families anxious to reserve a good seat. There were generous fireworks, splashing their sparkles and streaks across a Maxfield Parrish sky, accompanied by a local high school band. The only word I can find to describe that evening was “light.” There was nothing of that Soviet heaviness I had felt so keenly. There was something about the gathered families, the squealing children and the cheerful music that made the falling night magical. That night I became an incurable patriot, and July has never been the same.

My hope and prayer is that our unique brand of patriotism never changes. There is a troubling heaviness creeping into our political life, and we are more polarized these days than we should be. We are still at war, and the news of young Americans making the ultimate sacrifice puts an understandable edge on our celebrations. But I pray that the shrill piccolos of a Sousa march, the booms of summer fireworks, and Old Glory unfurled will always unite us and make us glad for our freedoms and our common responsibilities.

Maybe it won’t be long before we can finally beat those swords into plough-shares. We need to pray for that day. In the meantime, I still love the America I experienced on a Fourth of July night.


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