Independence Day. 241 years after the fact, the meaning changes. I am wearing a safety pin on my black T-shirt, supposedly symbolic of my sympathy toward all genders, religions, ethnicities… you are safe with me. Excepting, of course, those that profess bigotry, hatred, prejudice, exclusion… It is still alarming to me to find traitors among my circle of musicians, as though musical talent guarantees some sort of humanistic tolerance and empathy… and doesn't it? Are you listening, God?
Actually, I often wear a safety pin because my clothes are tattered and torn; my sewing machine was repaired by a Chinese man in a tiny garage filled floor to ceiling with junk who swore technical mastery of my 1970's Swedish brand but failed to honor his promise despite the nine months of service and my additional monthly payments. I believed in him. The fact that he scarcely spoke English only made my faith stronger; somehow I make assumptions that immigrants have way more passion and dedication to the American dream than our birth-citizens who seem more likely these days to pledge daily allegiance to the Apple logo and little else.
Walking through Central Park in near-perfect weather, there was an unusual sense of tranquility… the birds were louder than the cars; Mexican and Puerto Rican families barbecuing and sharing… children playing in the grass… tourists headed to Brooklyn for the fireworks later… up here people are enjoying a holiday, trying not to think of politics and patriotic complicity.
I no longer understand America… the meaning, the immigrants giving speeches about liberty and opportunity that no longer 'ring'. The bells of freedom, like the bells of St. Martin's church, are in need of repair. We are like a mis-diagnosed country, the victim of our own philosophical health-care emergency. Not to mention an early-Alzheimer's epidemic, because no one seems to even remember the melodies that are being recycled, scarcely a decade later. Where are the lessons learned? They are archived somewhere digital eons before the 'cloud' of recent invention which is bloated beyond galactic proportion with trivial bits of cultural and personal narcissism.
What will future archaeologists find? Where are our fossils? The detritus of our own waste-- unrecyclable plastics and packaging-- corpses and buried secrets from the hideous wars and crimes of warped humanity? Where is our goodness buried?
Recycling is a good thing in the wake of our wasteful ravaging of this planet… but cultural recycling? Where is our history, our memory? Man in his heyday invented writing, to record for posterity things that happened, things that were invented-- instructions, testimonies-- memorials. Most of us know how to read, but we ignore the important documents of history in favor of entertainment and froth. How many of us have piles of books by our bed and dedicate time to deciphering ideas and digesting text? We have televisions-- we have phones; we have instagram and Facebook. Few lessons are learned here.
In our day, we have invented all kinds of things-- we have created chemicals and microbes; we have changed DNA and bred flowers and dogs. We have diagnosed strange diseases, chronicled epidemics--- and yet we do not have cures. We build skyscrapers and house thousands of people in a small space; and still, when calamity strikes, we cannot save these people. We invent weapons of mass destruction… we fight wars of ideas, but we kill and injure; we cannot spare the innocent victims of these weapons. We do not really know how to solve our global problems. Are we independent, any of us? Do we think independently and make our own decisions? We rely on our technology and do not think for ourselves. Somehow we have en masse elected as our national leader a man whose ignorance is impressive and who could barely survive a day without a network of staff making decisions and executing procedure. It is a flaccid state of affairs…
Rereading the Declaration of Independence which I am motivated to do after pondering the state of our nation this July, I am baffled that many of the original principles seem to be underknown and disrespected by the priorities of the current presidency. Are we so codependent and selfish that we cannot look around us and prioritize humanity over material and economic gain? Are we so shallow that we no longer read or remember any historic lessons? How many Americans can name Beyonce's new twins and cannot identify 90% of the countries on an unlabeled map of Africa?
Of course, we have our phones; we have Google maps and Alexa and Siri. We do still use our thumbs, but for many of us, we don't retain numbers and names; we don't wrestle with ideas or walk from place to place but take the physical and mental uber. As far as history is concerned, we seem to welcome remakes of Hollywood movies and epics that succeeded once; someone seems to believe that massive budgets and contemporary celebrity actors will improve on the original, even though these actors' names will disappear from the horizon in a few telescoped years. The lessons of history are absorbed in the collective Alzheimer's of our society which is so busy streaming and amassing data that it has forgotten its own origins, and sacrificed the independence of its brain, once the shining crown of Man.
We believe in God, so many of us… but is religion another excuse for laziness? How many of us fall back on tenets and cliches and fail to have faith in our own ability to think with clarity? We change our bodies and faces, we are obsessed with style, and yet we rarely spend effort to change our minds. The tragedy of dementia affects us so deeply, yet here we are, daily, failing to protect or invest our most valuable asset. Think about it… in the fast-fading afterglow of twilight's last gleaming...