July 4 is noted as a day for fireworks and hot dogs. When I was a kid, my father and I used to go up to the roof of our Bronx apartment building to watch fireworks from whatever direction they might be seen. Later, I can remember attending Macy's famous fireworks on the Hudson River. Twenty-five years ago, I watched (through the fog) the fireworks by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In recent years, generally finding myself alone on such occasions, my fireworks watching has been mainly on TV. As for the hot dogs, I'm sure I miss the family Fourth-of-July cookouts much more than I've ever cared about the fireworks! This year, I'll be celebrating July 4 by flying from Knoxville to NY in the morning, hopefully getting home in plenty of time before the 5:15 p.m. Mass, after which I will probably end up either catching up on the Sunday Times, or reading Kristin Lavransdatter, or watching TV, So, no cook-out for me this year either!
July 4 also is - or at least ought to be - a good day to take stock of the state of our nation, now 234 years old. If anyone were tempted to doubt the greatness of this country, I suppose all he or she would need to do would be to ask some of the people from all over the world who are so eager to come here - as folks from all over the world (among them my own grandparents) have been as long as this country has been in existence. That having been said, it's hard to avoid also acknowledging that things could certainly be a lot better, and the prospects for our national life less promising than they might be.
To me the mess in the Gulf of Mexico sadly symbolizes the situation all too well. As a particular event, it has its specific causes for which responsibility may in the end be assigned. But the ultimate cause, of course, is our modern way of life and our lust for the resources that make it possible. Our apparently uncontrollable appetite for oil (preferable at the lowest possible price) has led us to a public policy impasse, while leaving us open to the kind of technological disaster that one probably could have expected sooner-or-later. In contrast to the "failure is no an option" attitude that seems to have characterized America once upon a time, today we face problems increasingly unresponsive to available solutions - a technological state of affairs which is sadly mirrored in our contemporary inability to deliberate and debate public policy issues as a nation of rational adults.
Well, that's the way it is (as an eminent newscaster whose career personified an earlier way of life and an older and better value system). Tomorrow is a day to celebrate (with fireworks and hotdogs) all that we have been and what we may hope yet to be. But after the fireworks have finished and the hot dos have been digested, we will need as a society to get serious again about making it really happen.