I had it all mapped out.
Well, not all mapped out. Partially mapped out. I saw it all unfolding in my mind.
As a writer—and I don’t know how other writers do it, but this is certainly how it works for me—I am always looking for life experiences that I can jump on, exploit, assign a metaphor to, and totally make a bigger deal of than necessary in order to turn them into a column. Sometimes these life experiences will come to me incidentally, or accidentally, without warning. And sometimes I’ll know about them ahead of time. I always think it’s better when I know of them ahead of time. 99 percent of life is preparation. I like to be able to brace myself.
I knew I was spending the morning of July 4 this year at a very historically significant place in American history. Valley Forge is a mere 10 minutes from my home, and they were holding a Community Picnic in the Park that morning, which I planned on attending with my wife and two young sons. It occurred to me before I got there (actually several days before I got there) what perfect fodder for a column this was. Valley Forge was that famous place where General Washington and his soldiers spent their winter of discontent in 1777 and 8. Anyone who’s ever read even a lick of American history has heard of it. They have heard of how important it was. How much of a symbol the place became. It was here where Washington and his troops had their resolve most tested. Cold and starving, most of them survived the winter. And their dream for freedom survived along with them.
I thought this was perfect column-writing material because of the obvious built-in juxtaposition. That dream was so alive back then. It seems so dead today. To spend the nation’s 237th birthday in such a place seemed like a natural jumping off point for me. I wasn’t sure what shape the column would take (you never really know ahead of time), but the theme was forming well in advance. I was going to write about how depressing it was to be in such a place on such a day. I was going to drop references to drone bombings and email and phone call snooping and joblessness and hopelessness, and make everyone who read it generally sad to live in America.
Only something happened when I got there. No one was depressed.
The event was stacked with various activities. At one station, you could dress like a colonial soldier. At another, you could lob a hard object and drop a girl with a shirt that said “Tax Collector” into a dunk tank. Lee Greenwood was playing on the speakers, and this seemed to be appropriate. At one point, Thomas Jefferson showed up to read from the Declaration. The whole sordid affair was delightful. No one seemed to be thinking about the contrast between what our country was and what it’s become at all. To tell you the truth, while I was there, I wasn’t thinking about it, either. The last column I wrote was about figuring out when it’s time to pack our bags and leave America; while I was there in Valley Forge on July 4, all I was thinking was there are things about this country I still love.
I still love the spirit that this country was founded in. I still love our flags—not just Old Glory, but all of them, the Gadsden, the Bennington, the Commodore Perry. I still love stories about our founding philanderer, Ben Franklin. I still love celebrating the Fourth of July and pretending we really do live in the greatest country in the world. I love being proud of where I come from. I love coming from where I come from. I love using the phrase “from sea to shining sea.” I love getting Lee Greenwood stuck in my head, and listening to baseball while drinking a beer on a warm summer Sunday. I love quoting from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and I love getting into arguments about what those quotes mean.
Those aren’t all of the things I love about America, but at least they’re some of the things. If I polled all the people in attendance at Valley Forge, I’m sure the list of things they loved about America would’ve been quite long. Our government is capable of ruining lots of stuff, but not yet our history, not yet our culture, and apparently not yet our Fourths of July, either. We still feel some connection to our past. We still feel some kind of kinship with the people who started this country and the mythologized ideals that we like to think they fought for. This means something for us. This means that original, founding part of us still exists. It means it’s not so far gone that we can’t still tap into it. It means there’s still some hope. How much hope? That I don’t know. But it only takes a sliver.
I don’t know what the future holds. I still maintain, as I did in my previous column, that the three most likely outcomes for our country are invasion, revolution, or bankruptcy, based on the track we’re on. I still maintain that there may come a time, not too many tomorrows from now, when a lot of people will leave this place to avoid at least one if not two or even three of those outcomes. But the good news is, even though this is winter, our dream for freedom may survive it. Hope is not lost till that dream—and our connection to those who originally dreamed it—are dead.
Jonathan David Morris is the author of “Versus Nurture,” available now for just 99 cents on Kindle. Send him mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.