The end of another Independence Day.
These used to be so special for my family. When the older kids were young, every year we would find something special to do. Fireworks in Boston, on the Mall of D.C., on the "Rocky" steps of the art museum in Philadelphia.
Until one year in Philly, Elton John was the featured performer. The city had actually sold the night to some group and made it into an AIDS awareness event. There was not a single word spoken about America, the founding, or the principles that made us independent.
There were fireworks to "celebrate the largest AIDS event in world history" (actual statement just before the fireworks). During those fireworks, we were treated to "Born in the USA," an anti-American song and a silly James Brown song among others.
It was at this point I started to become disillusioned with what we are really all about.
We had become a people that celebrated the Fourth of July, not Independence Day.
The next year I was asked to be in the biggest July 4 parade in the country. It is in Provo Utah. It is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the patriotic crowd. I was thrilled to be there. I was asked to host the "Stadium of Fire" two years in a row. I felt at home.
However, as I became more involved, I saw that as some of the original partners of this event were aging out, the younger producers --- all from Hollywood --- were seeing the event more as a concert for big names over big feelings and giant ideas.
A little more reality was coming home. My rose colored, or better yet red white and blue colored glasses were about fully come off.
I really gave up hope several summers ago when I spoke in Logan, Utah. This should have been ground zero for America's principles. The paper made a big deal out of how I shouldn't be there. Some of the leaders spoke out against me speaking. I understood that part of it, as many people don't agree with me politically, but I spoke about Washington and his character and I was followed by an amazing patriotic concert with a full orchestra and choir --- all volunteers. I was told the organizers wanted to go a different direction the next year. Big name concert acts. I hope that didn't happen.
This year, after teaching the kids about the Bill of Rights, we lived the Second Amendment and went shooting.
Later, we went to a town of about 800 people in Lewiston Utah. It is up near Idaho where we spend a lot of time. I really didn't even want to go, but Tania insisted. I am glad I went. It was simple and in the town's green space.
A flag pole just at the entrance is marked by a stone that reads:
Once freedom is lost, it is lost forever.
It is a quote from John Adams. The stone looked new, no more than five years old.
Just before the event began, I met a man and his family who lived there. His home backed up to the park. He spotted me and called out over his fence.
What a patriot he and his wife are. The were maybe in their twenties or early thirties. They had married and in 2013 she had moved away from her family home in India. He shared his fears about what might be coming our way due to our loss of the common sense of right and integrity.
"We have passed all the exits and the bridge is out just ahead," he said.
She cried as she spoke.
"We are quite broke," she said. "As we began our life together as a family, trying to buy a house, it was tough to do anything else. But we fought hard in this last political campaign. We have to do all we can to save this nation. But people really don't see right and wrong or the difference between a lie and truth."
Her voice cracked as she told me about her love of this country and how she sees us as a country of blessings and miracles.
"America has it all from big to small and most just don't see it," she said.
We didn't say much more after that. But we all knew the "Fundamental Transformation" is complete and perhaps God in His mercy will humble us to save us from ourselves.
It was a simple night in a small town made up of real people --- people who have restored my faith in the gathering we call "Fourth of July fireworks." And to think it was done without celebrity singers, high ticket prices or even a soundtrack featuring Bruce Springsteen or Lee Greenwood songs.
Thank you, Lewiston.
My view of this holiday has changed over the last 15 years. I used to cry during the fireworks out of uber-patriotism. Then, I cried over the hope and belief there were enough of us to pull our country back from the brink. Then I mourned the loss of my country, feared for the future for my children and the holiday became meaningless to me. Empty words, music and rituals.
Tonight, perhaps, I began walking toward a better America. One where our eyes are wide open, where we recognize the trouble we are in and even more, the trouble we are still headed for and yet we remain committed to our principles as we come together and tell each other the hard truth without guile, blame or anger.
There is something very right and true that happens when Americans simply talk to one another over the backyard fences in our small towns.
Featured Image: 1955: There is tension at the German-Dutch frontier town of Siebengewald, where a minor war is being waged over claims to farm land. Separated only by a hedge, the German family (right), don't approve of the drastic action taken by their fellow countrymen and remain good friends with the Welles family, on the other side of the border. But the families are forbidden to visit one another, they may only talk together over the hedge. (Photo by Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images)