When In the Course of Human Events

Another Fourth of July has passed. Gone are the sparkling fireworks while the BBQ’s-hallmarks of summer–have been consumed by the hazy heat of the morning after. My Fourth began with a cup of tea with my parents–while Regis and Kelly asked America about the first seven words of the Declaration of Independence.  Heavy stuff  is what they said when the words (the title of this post) were read out loud, and found myself (spurred on by the patriotic Facebook status messages filled with uncommon quotations) digging out my pocket sized Constitution (which also had the text of the Declaration) so that I could think about the complexity of this 235th birthday of the United States of America.

On this day I honored not merely the ideal of America, or the date in which a document (a piece of our civic scripture–to borrow from Pauline Maier) was signed. Rather I chose to recognize the struggle-the one that re-examined our self evident thruths. The struggle that redefined “men” to include race and gender, and molded the meaning of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Ironically, my Fourth of July did no include a BBQ or Fireworks. Instead, I went to see “Midnight in Paris”, a film which turned out to be a perfect backdrop for reflection on Independence Day.  In short, the film follows a Hollywood script writer turned aspiring novelist as he is magically transported to 1920s Paris. It is during these “suspension of reality” moments where Gil encounters idols of film, literature, art and culture. As a Woody Allen film, the movie mocks pretentiousness, while also being slightly pretentious–and also in a less than subtle fashion drives full force into the commentary on nostalgia (even to the extent that Gil’s novel is set in a nostalgia shop). The man is caught between his fiance and her friends who don’t understand the magic of Paris, and a slow realization that his forays into the past are really ventures into fantasy.  This mystical Paris in the 20’s pulls those who reminisce away from the demands (or as one character states the “dullness”) of the present and leaves them disconnected–unable to see the realities of the time that they fill with the veneer of romance. As one of my fellow movie viewers pointed out, the past became a way for the writer to feel affirmation and confidence rather than genuinely earning it through his actual actions.

At the same time that Gil is realizing the imperfectness of remaining in the past, he is also acknowledging the beauty of the urban. His walks through the city provided him with vision–and make him, in his mind, a better writer. For  Gil the lure of Paris is in its character both in its modern and historical sense–though even then he uses rain as a way of hiding reality (for Paris is at its most beautiful when it is raining).  It is the city–the power of place–that brings inspiration.

Fourth of July Fireworks (NYC 2011, Thermal view) Taken by T. Chhaya

I thought this was a great way to think about America on it’s birthday. That though the day is filled with nostalgia–summer days with a slightly romantic sheen, our Founding Fathers fighting for our rights against a tyrannical king–we all recognize the reality of the day–the sacrifice and yes, the struggle to get where we are. That the power of our place– our country –is not just in the sites we like to visit, but also in our people who make history with every vote, every breath, and every step.

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave. 

O’er the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave. 

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