The Spirit of July 5, 1776

Something strange has happened to me over the past few years. I don’t know if it’s the result of living alone or moving back to New York City, but I have become more introverted and reserved. If you know me personally you may be wondering right now if I fell and hit my head, since there is not an introverted bone in my body. Well, the truth is they’re all introverted, even the broken ones. Whether it is from getting older (did you know middle age now starts at sixty?), not being married anymore, or negotiating sidewalks in a city that gave birth to the phrase “New York Minute,” I have turned inward. With that comes a lifestyle that is simpler, quieter, and more focused. Without getting all zen on you, the waves on the surface of the sea have caused me to dive deeper.

Take the Fourth of July. I am old enough to remember when people referred to it as Independence Day, but I suppose ever since the movie of the same name we can’t do that anymore. This year, I did not go to a parade, watch fireworks, or take the D train to Yankee Stadium. I’ve seen parades and have even been in a few (believe it or not, the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco). I have been on the Mall at Washington, DC and watched the most spectacular of all firework shows. I have been to the old Yankee Stadium, watched Mickey Mantle, and, thanks to a generous friend, attended all three home games for the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers. In other words, been there, done that. I don’t need those things anymore.

But there’s more to it that that. I think there is a spirituality attached to July 5. I don’t care for the extravagance of July 4 but am more than eager to enter into the spirit of the day after. That spirit comes once the celebrations are over and the confetti and ashes have to be swept up. It is the first day of living the reality of independence. In 1776, that meant the hard work of fashioning a new society, building a republic, and facing the often ugly challenges of freedom, as De Tocqueville observed.

July 5 does not wear a full dress uniform like July 4. It is not dapper and elegant enough to appear on a recruiting poster. It is just another day, perhaps even less so because of the emotional letdown that comes after the sizzle and barbeques have ended. July 5 is the beginning of reality. I think of it as a secular version of the church’s “ordinary time.” Anything that is not a liturgical season like Lent, Advent, or Easter is considered ordinary time. It doesn’t get royal purple, lily white, or blood red. No, its color is green like grass, which is everywhere and easily trampled.

It’s almost as if I now go out of my way to avoid extravagance, which I think of as the Vegas-fication of American life. You’ve heard of a Vegas vacation, well this is Vegas-fication, with all the imagery and connotations that might conjure up. I don’t want Vegas. It’s not that I think Vegas is awful; I don’t. I just equate it more with July 4 than July 5, and I am drawn, spiritually, to ordinary time.

For that same reason, I prefer silence over talking, walking over driving, and listening over explaining. Sure, that’s hard to do in my line of work as a teacher, but somebody’s got to sit down and not draw attention to himself. It’s not easy not being heard.

You might be misunderstood.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli and Laura Fedora for that perfect beach book. Note to self: I will sign the petition for a $15 minimum wage only if the city bans ranchera music, especially at the bodega across the street. As John Hancock once said, my pen is at the ready. For top photo, go to abouttheflag.

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