WASHINGTON -- I am sorry to report that one's attitudes toward summer, not to speak of toward the grand Fourth of July, change as you get older.
In the service of transparency, I want to say that I have done no research at all on this important subject. I have asked not a single friend if he or she feels the same way. (Believe me, they do!) I have neither consulted the Internet, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Dear Abby or any of the hoary helpmeet institutions of our society. I didn't have to because there are certain things you just know.
I know, for instance, that, when we were all younger, summer represented hope. Life was going to be perfect once summer came. Perfect days, perfect lakes, perfect love! Summer was a horizon you crept up on, a horizon that, once squarely met, would open the secrets of the entire world to you. There was no end to anything, only endless, beautiful days of sun and water that wrapped around your very soul.
My family had a small but charming summer cottage on one of those gleaming lakes in southern Wisconsin, which I have always thought to be the most beautiful place in the world. My mother, my brother Glen and I left in June and didn't come back till September. Dad, who had his own demanding dairy business in Chicago, came up on Sundays (and I think he kind of enjoyed "baching it" in the city, too). It was all quite sublime.
But we had to sell the cottage two years ago, due to Glen's illness and my distance. Oh, there was really nothing to it; it was just like wrenching your heart
Soon after we sold the cottage, my beloved older brother fell, became incapacitated and died a year ago this winter. So this summer, I face another type of season, not unknown to others: So many of my friends have also become seriously ill, and at all kinds of ages, that I have decided to hang around and spend the time offering whatever sustenance I can to them.
What could have happened to that old horizon of our youth, that "Over the Rainbow" world with the pot of gold? Exactly where along the way did it become static, fixed, no longer an "open sesame" to the future?
Then we come to the Fourth of July. Oh yes, of course, we used to set off fireworks from the small hill in front of our cottage, and I wonder who will be doing that this year. But then, I have always loved the grandiose, in fact stupendous, fireworks here in Washington.
No, my problem with the Fourth this year lies somewhere else, in contradictory feelings that I know many Americans are having this year. I don't know how to show the profound patriotism I feel toward this incredible country, when in fact I also need to show that I feel it is acting in ways that are profoundly un-American.
Many people here and elsewhere in the country have expressed this same feeling to me in these last months. They don't want to say "just get out" of Iraq -- they know that would be a disaster. They don't want to let down our troops, honorable and decent men and women sent there under false pretenses. But they also don't want this administration to get away with all it has been getting away with -- and now, with the president's speech of this past week, keep running with the apparently eternal pretense that 9/11 had anything at all to do with the war in Iraq.
So, how to show your patriotism and not become an anti-American American when you also want to tell your own beloved people: "Don't you see what is happening? Don't you see the repetitious behavior: Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia, Lebanon, Haiti, Iraq?
Meanwhile, there are several things I'm going to try to do to make up for my summer funk:
UI'm going to reminisce, which at best means "to relive." I'm going to wallow in memories. How beautifully we can hold those fragile early images in our minds, and smile with the reactivated memory of them!
UI'm going to try to "be there" (hateful term, but useful) for my friends who are ill, hoping perhaps less that I can solace them than that I may learn from them.
UI'm going to try desperately to find some ways to express my deep and abiding love for this country but, at the same time, to separate that love from many of the things we are doing; to hate the war but respect the warrior; but also to try to keep our country from making the same mistakes over and over again.
Not my usual Fourth of July column, for sure -- but then, this is not exactly a "usual" time, is it?
Universal Press Syndicate