It’s 110 degrees
there’s a significant wind moving the leaves
of our sissoos and elms.
From the window outside looks inviting
I’m tired of being inside
tired of air conditioning and my couch
I want to feel some heat, some breeze
that’s what I want
I’ll go get a watermelon
“I’m going to the store for watermelon!” I shout to my husband
laying on the couch watching videos of mountain biking
“That’s all? Watermelon?” my husband questions the necessity of the trip
“I’ve got my mask. I’ll be quick”
and off I went.
I found myself wondering the isles, not being quick
watching people, some masked, others not.
Going to the store wasn’t like this last year
Melon and some popcorn, I check out
a Plexiglas shield between me and my masked cashier
“What are you doing for the 4th, honey?” she asked,
It struck me funny she called me honey
she could have been my daughter
“Just trying to stay safe, you know” I pointed to my mask
“Me too. I wish I could just stay home” she confessed
“I’m sorry dear. I pray you’ll stay safe.”
“Thanks! Happy 4th!”
I was tired of being inside
she just wanted to go home.
Home again I wash my hands
and the fruit
and cut into that idealistic melon.
Small red triangles dotted with black seeds
fill my bowl.
but I don’t want to stay inside.
so I walk to the nearest patch of shade in the yard
the stinging invisible rays burning enough
to make me a little uncomfortable.
I brought the rinds from the watermelon
to our goats and chickens
who I found hunkering down, panting in the shade of our aluminum corral
I set the green and red rinds down in their troughs and watched them
get up from their spots
They seemed to enjoy the cold, crunchy shell of the melon
pecking and chomping
A neighbor down the alley has started up
the mariachi band that usually plays on Saturday nights
I listen for a bit
Mariachi always sounds like happy children playing in the yard to me
dancing and laughing and chasing each other
There will be no fireworks in town tonight
a young cashier will be calling strangers “honey” from behind Plexiglas
a Latino family down the alley will play mariachi
my friends will fight off panic in the hospital
a woman will grieve that Covid took her love
a daughter will weep that it took her mom
a stranger will call a nurses station hoping for good news
and when the sun to goes down
I’ll sit on the porch and watch the sky
This weekend me, my friends and neighbors are going to BBQ and blow up things. My social media feed will be full of American flags and Happy Independence Day GIF’s and memes.
I enjoy a good 4th of July celebration. Fireworks are nostalgia for me. Growing up in a small town of log truck drivers and mill workers (my dad one of them), the 4th meant BBQ’d chicken, which my dad joked was a burnt offering. It meant parking alongside the road up the hill from our fair grounds to watch (for free) the explosions in the sky.
As my sons entered their school-aged years, I began searching for stories and lessons from history that would help my sons know more about their country than the suburban white culture they lived in was teaching them. My mom tried to do the same for me, taping images of babies from various ethnicities to the wall next to my crib. As I began my search for more diverse material to inject into my kids’ senses, I began to learn what I was never taught growing up.
Yesterday I listened to a podcast with Dr. Walter Strickland. Strickland discussed his book, For God So Loved the World- A Blueprint for Kingdom Diversity. Strickland described the African American Christian community bringing to Christian theology a Berean-like practice that chews the meat of the gospel but spits out the bones of errant tradition. Strickland pointed out this Biblical practice has been part of the African American Christian way from it’s inception. Why? Because if African Americans had swallowed whole the Christian faith they were force-fed as slaves, they would have rejected it all together. The gospel the slaves learned and embraced was filled with a bunch of dead boned theology that their slaveholders used to defend slavery.
The Africans who were enslaved in the U.S. and on whose backs the U.S economy and government structures were built, were able to chew the meat of the gospel that Christ died for their sins to reconcile them to God and spit out the bones of the evil of their slaveholders. How can I do any less?
In Fredrick Douglass’ now famous speech What to the slave is the 4th of July, the former slave eloquently lays out the irony and wickedness that young America was willingly blinded to. He pointed out how our father’s thought it right and noble to seek independence from Britain’s crown, and celebrated their victory in gaining this freedom, while chained to the dark-skinned men, women and children they denied this freedom too.
“You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country…. ” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)
But even Douglass, so freshly scarred and wounded in a time of open slavery, was chewing the meat of the virtues America ironically violated in their slave holding, while spitting out the bones of our country’s wickedness.
“Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)
I love America. I love her diversity. I love that she has an ethic of hard work and human rights. I love that she invites the immigrant and the poor. I love the bravery of those who fought and died for her. But those very appetizing traits have come with centuries of splintery bones we all too easily swallow in our fourth of July nostalgia. Tomorrow I’ll eat barbecued chicken and cherry pie. I’ll light up some store bought fake fireworks and sing our national anthem. But I want to celebrate with the wisdom of the men and women who perhaps sang the greatest anthem to come from America’s freedom- the cries of former slaves who discerning wisdom from above, took the meat from America’s declaration of independence and spit out all her bones.