Monday, July 4, 2011

You Should Remember to Remember This

Growing up in South East Texas, Independence day meant being lugged to mass, even if we were at the beach. It meant singing “God Bless America” at the end and hearing a woman who had probably practiced for two months try to imitate Kate Smith. We’d complain about it, being kids, but Dad maintained it set the importance of the day on remembering that this great gift of free will, of liberty, of independence does not come without a prior generation’s cost. He'd talk about how it will it not long endure if the current caretakers are ignorant of their past, of the present, or fearful of the future. We’d roll our eyes with that knowing 'Dad' look that only kids can give grownups who obviously don’t understand what is worth knowing.

After mass, Dad would drive us to the local grocery store, and we’d sit down at the picnic table outside with popsicles that melted faster than any of us could lick. He’d ask us either in the car or while we were licking off the sticky stuff, “What were the readings?” or even worse, “What did you think of the homily?” We soon learned to speed read the misselettes before leaving Church in case our kid minds had wandered during the Liturgy, but it didn’t help when July 4th fell on a non-Sunday. Then, he’d quiz us about our country and its history and offer suggested readings. We learned to pay attention or at least preemptively cram, if only to avoid the embarrassment of flunking the Popsicle quiz.

But Dad, being a crafty parent, employed further stealth. He waited as we grew older. We’d drive home, have lunch and be lounging over comic pages from the newspaper, idly discussing whether or not we wanted to play cards or go hunting for driftwood to build a bonfire, and he’d appear with the quiz questions. He’d say the summation of the reading and ask us what Father had said. But Homily Jeopardy often resulted in a goodly amount of sibling collusion, where we’d rack our adolescent sunburnt beachcombed brains for key words we’d remembered and hope that others would fill in the blanks.

He’d read the readings over again to us and hope something sunk in during the process. Then he’d slyly offer to play Trivial Pursuit and always pick history so as to, once again, engage in parental instruction about the importance of the day. I took to studiously avoiding the yellow squares, while my brother keenly pre-read every Trivial Pursuit card’s history question and answer. It never really mattered to Dad, he was just glad we were learning it, by osmosis or repetition or sheer stubborn adolescent desire to win.

It didn’t matter what the year was, the evening of the 4th meant piling into the largest car and sitting outside on the side of the freeway on top of it and watching the fireworks with my family. It felt cool and communal to sit under the stars with everyone I loved. I wished the shows would go on forever if only because I knew the next day, I’d be back to fighting with my two brothers and Dad would be back at work and the magic and beauty of having the whole country take a break and celebrate would be over. The 'connected with everyone' feeling would dissipate from the crowds as quickly as the smoke from the last explosion thinned into nothingness and everyone scrambled to their cars and began to complain about the traffic.

My father would hum songs and makes puns in between the various stars and bomb bursts and whistling rockets and after, trying to prolong the feeling, the moment of everyone being united and at peace with one another.

Today, as my husband and I scramble to load the car for mass and make sure everyone has matching shoes that fit and combed hair, so as to make it on time for three of our children to serve, I find myself tucking the Magnificat in my purse as we run out the door. Scanning the readings ahead of time so that if I am occupied by my children or my own wandering mind, I at least had a chance to read the wisdom I may not hear in my distraction. I want to know what I might otherwise miss, because I have been taught to recognize I could miss it.

I have even tossed out the Popsicle question on my kids over breakfast bagels. My kids know more than I did at their age -- about their country, about their government and about the need to be involved and engaged in the world -- but they too look sometimes shocked at me as they grope to remember all the things or some of the images presented during the mass. And when I begin to chide or lecture them about it, they give the look that only children can give to parents who want them to recognize something they think they already understand but don’t.

So this 4th of July, I intend to take my children to mass and sing my best Kate Smith imitation, and ask them afterwards about how our independence is secured and endowed by our Creator, and what the Priest said. And then, we’re going to sit outside on top of the cars so they can one day recognize that communion feeling of being surrounded by everyone they love, watching beauty explode outward overhead. Because the fireworks may fade but the memory of these moments, when everyone stopped and took pleasure in each other’s company, lasts longer than the Popsicles or the last rocket’s red glare, giving proof through the night that this people are still here.

I’ll hold onto each of them at some point, hoping that the grip of my hand in theirs helps seal in their hearts and minds, don’t miss the opportunity to remember this.*

Originally ran August 11, 2009

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