The Fourth of July

There will be no fireworks where I live this year. It is too dry. As I write this, rain is predicted–the first time in four months, but then again, I live in the desert. But even if it rains, no fireworks. Too many wildfires already. Palm trees burn explosively, sending sparks onto dry brush and roofs. I understand, but it will feel different.

Every July, I wonder what it would be like if my parents hadn’t emigrated, hadn’t made a life in America. If I hadn’t been born here, mis-identified by my parents as “our little Native American.” I didn’t understand their mistake till my fifth grade teacher called me Little Raining Cloud. The smallest and youngest in my class, and, unfortunately in a rural school, bad at sports and good at math, I cried a lot. Kids made fun of the way I dressed (hand-me-downs), my European pronunciation of English, and my braids. I could not decipher why they all wanted to sit around me when it came time for tests, when they despised me the rest of the day.

What makes me still and silent on this day of bright celebration, is what has happened to our culture since 9/11. I remember before that day, our country was brash, and open and daring. After that day, fear dominated. We fear immigrants. We fear dark-skinned people. We fear non-Christians. We give up privacy and freedom in exchange for a false sense of protection. We separate the world into “them” and “us.” And “them” are wrong. News, which once was the inviolable ground of neutrality, is now a snipe fest of blame and blood. Common sense is hanging on by its thin fingernails, as we beg the question, believe in correlation instead of cause, and pay no attention to critical thinking because rage and hurled invective is so much more demonstrative of patriotism than calm and rational thinking.

So today, I am carefully sweeping up the shards of my hope, digging in my backpack for leftovers of compassion, and digging out the last few grains of kindness. It may not be much, but I won’t trade them for the more colorful and dramatic fear. I won’t let fear stay in my house or in my heart. I want to be determined in good will, in optimism, in  helping those who need help. Eventually, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and I want to live by kindness instead.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is a creativity coach who believes that kindness can transform, one person at a time.

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20 thoughts on “The Fourth of July

  1. Pingback: Follow-up to Quinn McDonald’s Post on Fear | The Creativity Continium

    • WordPress wouldn’t let me leave a comment on your blog (sigh) because they didn’t recognize the user name and password I’ve had for the last five years. In any case, thanks for liking the quote. It came to me all at once, and I must admit to be kind of fond of it myself.

  2. I´m glad my husband´s grandfather took the “wrong” boat from Germany and ended up here in South America instead of the North one like his siblings or I wouldn´t have my family now.
    My fil used to speak only German till he was 6 and then he stopped because he was being ridiculed at school. Plus he changed his name from Eugenie to Tony. He doesn´t remember a word of the language now but he sent his kids to a bilingual school for them to learn it (the same our kids go to).
    {Á gentle hug for the girl you were}

  3. I wanted to share a letter from the CEO of Starbucks (http://www.blogger.com/An%20Open%20Letter:%20How%20Can%20America%20Win%20This%20Election?) that has some of the same inferences. Though he doesn’t call out the fear factor like you do, he is looking to the future stating that it’s time to look past partisanship and vote this year as a people instead. He asks that we post, tweet, blog, etc about our individual vision for America. I’d love to see you update this post with the hash tag #INDIVISIBLE so your vision of America bubbles to the top. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jayme, but updating my post with a hashtag will do nothing. Other people will have to Tweet a link to my page with a hashtag, which only work on Twitter. I love Howard, but his message seemed a bit vague. The biggest response, of course, is to get people to tweet that they can get a free cup of coffee today at Starbucks and add the hashtag to it. Howard is nothing if not a shrewd marketer. I am impressed that he got 150 other CEOs to pledge not to make political contributions. But, of course, that just one party. The other party won’t sign the pledge.

  4. I think of the courage of all those who left what they knew to go to the unknown promise. Would we ourselves be able to do that? TO have the strength, and the fortitude for such an adventure?
    Lovely words, as always. My father’s parents were among those at the beginning of the twentieth century and my mom’s grandmother.

    • Extensive studies have shown that immigrants are the brightest and bravest of people. My parents came when they were middle-aged, and that made it so much harder for them.

  5. As you have implied, Quinn:
    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Ben Franklin
    A derivative: If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.

    • I love that quote from Ben Franklin. Too bad while we are so rabid about following the Constitution, we aren’t paying attention to that phrase, by one of the authors of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

  6. Yes! I totally agree with you, Quinn. I even gave a lay we adopt sermon on fear at my church, explaining how it prevents people from communicating and as you say the restrictions we adopt do not truly make us safer. Our city has a police officer stand inside the elementary school entryway every day at closing time. Like that is going to prevent anything from happening, and he doesn’t even use the time to get to know the children and build a connection as used to happen when we were kids. My dil is very upset that I do not lock my doors day or night here in my somewhat rural area. When I do it focuses my attention on the possibility that someone might rob us and and keeps that anxiety sitting on my shoulder the whole time. I’d rather lose some possessions than live that way. Besides if someone does rob us then at least I won’t have to repair the broken door. Though I probably will be upset when the insurance won’t cover replacements.
    I try to encourage my grandchildren to understand that you can’t prevent bad things from happening, so understand that the world is unpredictable, be reasonably careful when it is appropriately necessary and be positive and happy and nice to everyone and don’t worry. I especially try to prevent them from adopting the victim role that is so prevalent these days. I think that believing you can get over a transgression, even a fairly serious one, and move on without dragging it behind you for the rest of your life is one of the most empowering attitudes we can foster in our children. It decreases the fear factor immensely.

    • I agree with every word, from the policeman who is not trying to befriend the kids he is not protecting, to our love of victimhood. to being careful, but not fearful. I saw what fear did to the soul of my mother–who had experiennced WWII in Germany–it ate her from the inside out. She lived to b 95, but she lived in fear and the answer to everything was rage and blame.

      • Isn’t it interesting that some people were able to live through the holocaust and still rise above it, like Viktor Frankl, for example? And the Amish people whose children were murdered but were able to respond with compassion not hate. I wonder what it is that gives them that ability to put down the fear and hate and not carry it forever. From
        http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html
        Frankl said: “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

        According to logotherapy, meaning can be discovered by three ways: “(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering,” he wrote.
        I am sorry that your mother was tormented forever by the horrifics of WWII, and I am glad you are here, speaking your wisdom.

        • I’ve read Frankl’s books and a good deal about him, wondering the same thing. My only idea is that my mother (and I) always had an exaggerated sense of fairness. Through a lot of hard work, my mother went to university and then to medical school, something unheard of for a woman in that time. She left medical school to marry my father, and expected a life of respect and intellectual advancement, both of which were her “due” for her hard work and in the social structure of Germany. The wife of a doctor and professor was called “Fray doktor professor” and had privilege, something she did not grow up with. To then have it all taken away, suffer so much, and wind up in rural America, where she was misunderstood and ridiculed, well, that just infuriated her.

  7. Your words and deeds add to that pool of compassion Quinn. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like much, but I do believe these ripples we send out, these values we hold firm in our heart – they do make a difference. Kindness like you say, is transformative. I hope you enjoy your day, minus the fireworks.

    • There is no amount of compassion that isn’t worthwhile. But sometimes I do feel overwhelmed with the amount of anger and willful ignorance—particularly here. But you work with what you have. Thanks for the encouragement, Joanna. Sometimes it seems like, what was it I learned yesterday?–pushing water uphill with a rake.

  8. People generally hate what they fear. 9/11 taught us to do both and polarised opinion: “if you are not with us, then you have to be against us”. As a culture, our Western society is quick to judge, and the actions of a few have meant that anyone in the slightest way different can no longer be our friend, even if we have known them for years. There can be no proper celebration of independence while we are prisoners to this fear and hatred, and that is the sad legacy of the evil done on that day.
    To break it we need to learn to trust again, and embrace and celebrate our differences so that what unites us becomes a stronger bond than that which divides us. Learn to say hello to someone of middle eastern or Islamic heritage; exchange a smile, do a kindness and persist when we are rebuffed. These are little things, but if we are willing to take these first baby steps, then that is the real meaning of Independence.

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