"What does The Fourth of July mean to you?" It's a question I receive often, not as a knock but rather a quizzical lack of understanding as to what a red, white and blue, fiercely patriotic day means to someone with dual citizenship.
I arrived in this country under very different circumstances to other immigrants who now call the Unites States home. Unlike those escaping a war-torn country or desperately hoping to give their family a better life I arrived safe, healthy and with food in my stomach.
Initially my arrival was supposed to be temporary. Having a chance to change scenery through college and getting four years abroad before applying my knowledge and education to a career in Australia. It was supposed to be a brief layover, it became a love. Meeting my wife was part of the equation, a large part -- but so much of my appreciation of Independence Day stems from how this nation grows on someone who didn't grow up here.
There's the largely false belief that things like freedom of speech or expression are values solely applicable to the United States. It's this chest-puffing bravado that frustrates so much of the rest of the first world that doesn't live here, but they don't understand that it doesn't come from a place of malice, just pride. Australia has free speech, it has freedom of oppression, it has a free press -- to me the differences are social rather than purely political.
The stereotype of Australians is that they're fun loving and welcoming, which is accurate -- but there's a strong divide that falls between friend and acquaintance. This is the key difference between countries to me. In America we share (and tend to over-share) with people we know vaguely. There's a free exchange of ideas and debates, but more importantly a willingness to help someone you know only vaguely. I've seen barely-friends rally around each other in crisis, take food to neighbors, genuinely blur the line between what it means to be "friends" and strangers.
Maybe that doesn't happen everywhere, perhaps it's part of the Southern condition -- but it means a lot. There's a welcoming endless bounty of good will that casual relationships breed in this nation that I haven't experienced anywhere else. Not the casual "that person's friendly" but "holy shit, I can rely on that person." That's rare.
There are things this nation shouldn't be proud of in its past, you don't need me to tell you that. The truth is that every country has its negatives. Right now political divides on a million issues are sharpened to a thin knife edge we walk every day: The desire to improve this nation vs. the risk of losing what we already have.
That's where things are now. The boundless fear that making any change can ruin what we've got, like the best friends in a movie who contemplate dating only to say "I'm afraid of losing what we have." People believe what they do, the debates will happen, but this is the key conceit: Wanting to keep America, America.
What does The Fourth of July mean to me? It's not just the freedoms we enjoy or the bounty of this nation. It's not simply an acknowledgement of a war that was won hundreds of years ago. When I think of this day I think or friends, close and far apart. A nation that fosters bonds quickly between people, because in my experience it's welcoming.
I think of the casual conversations that start anywhere and out of thin air, because there's a lack of fear in how Americans interact. There are no stilted social rules, no veil of what's "proper," we say what we think, wear our hearts on our sleeve and on some level it means that every interaction is deeper as a result. Americans on the whole don't bottle things up, which is beautiful.
One day when I've experienced more and have the knowledge to do it justice I'd love to sit down and write a sweeping love letter to this country, but I'm not equipped to do it -- not yet. For now I'll just say thank you. To a land that allowed me to meet my wife, buy a home, work a job that allows me to be fulfilled every day. A nation that gives us an abundance of sports, astounding entertainment simply for enjoyment. A country that's an every-changing landscape with a constant bedrock. Where every day a new part of our cultural melting pot can bubble to the top, allowing us to taste, smell and experience another nation.
So thank you America for being you, for being frigging awesome. I wont go the played out route of saying "It's the best country in the world," because I haven't lived everywhere, and there are a lot of amazing places. So instead I'll just say "thanks" and take a deep breath of clean air while I sit outside under this Carolina blue sky and have a beer with my family and friends and appreciate how lucky I am.
Have a wonderful Independence Day everyone. For those of you I've met, lets have a beer in Spartanburg -- those I haven't, lets change it -- because making strangers friends is what this place is to me.