In the intense heat of July 4, we carried our lawn chairs, our lemonade and wine and egg salad sandwiches and brownies, and our iphones, to the Cambridge side of the Charles River. We found a fine shady spot under a tree, and there we settled down to a three-hour wait for the concert and the fireworks that celebrate our country’s birthday in Boston.
Earlier in the day, twenty-six people celebrated their birth-days as American citizens, in a naturalization ceremony on board Old Ironsides, the U. S. S. Constitution, which is berthed at Boston. These new Americans came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Now they have joined the rest of us in this peculiar, unique experiment called The United States of America, adding their gifts, energy and hopes to the messy, exhilarating, often-irritating national ruckus and enterprise, which still more or less works even after two hundred thirty-seven years.
In 1776 John Adams predicted to his wife that this day "will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival" and that the celebration should include "Pomp and Parade...Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other."
John might have been a bit surprised at the crowd along the Charles River. To one side of our spot were two ladies, lawn chairs decked out with flags, speaking Spanish with each other. Behind me was a Black couple on a yellow blanket, and to my other side, an Indian family, she in a silken sari; their kids, wearing shirts with flag décor, were busy on their phones.
At 7:30 the concert began, broadcast from across the river, and we all stood to sing our National Anthem. The Spanish-speaking ladies belted it out, and waved their flags. Like these women, my Mother did not speak English when she came here.
After the concert, the Illuminations! If only the Founding Fathers and their families were here to see the birthday Illuminations! How they would marvel at the lavish forms and colors, that pungent scent, the stunning reports felt in the breastbone, and the sheer spectacle and delight of it all. Through the drifting smoke I could still see the flag, flying from a nearby boat. Yes, our flag was still there. It seemed a fine thing. Happy Birthday, America!
Four days after America’s birthday is mine, and this year I am 75 years old. This seems something special, a special number of years. At present at least all is more or less well with me, and for this very good fortune I am profoundly grateful, and I do not take it for granted.
One of the rewards for having made it this far is a great storehouse of memory (and do not think for an instant that I am unaware of the gift of memory!). When thinking about writing this piece, I considered my first memory of a place. I suppose I was about three years old, and at Greenacres, a nursery school. I remember that there was a kind of room or shed in which we little kids could make things from wood, and how good it smelled in there. Hello, you nursery school teachers! Thank you for this memory!
And, of course, I hold in my mind’s eye innumerable places upon this earth which it has been my deep joy to behold, and to which I can return in mind at any time. I am grateful for mountains of every description; deserts, waters, forests and plains; vasty places and tiny; places above the earth and below it; for ice and sand and moss and rock and mud; for blue places and brown and green, red places and yellow places, and white. I give thanks for the panoply of animals I have witnessed, from microscopic to our very largest, striped and spotted animals, banded and plain, with no limbs or many, tailed and untailed and of every form imaginable. I give thanks for all the marvels of plants, the source of our life here on earth. I have seen all these things and I remember them.
On this birthday I celebrate and give thanks for all the people who inhabit my memories, those dear to me and those I have seen while passing but have not known. Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes…for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…in all people I see myself…”
So: Happy Birthday to me, at the end of my 75th year!
Sophie Rapaport 06:45pm, 07/08/2013
You write beautifully Hilary and very Happy Birthday to You!