July 4, 1998–tiny town in southern Bolivia
Only three people in town were celebrating the 4th of July as a significant date–the three young American girls living in Colon Sur for our summer/their winter. By day, we visited the adobe homes of some of the most hospitable and resilient people I have ever met, helping out with household projects and practicing our Spanish. By night, we gazed at the Milky Way, and then settled down in our cots surrounded by mosquito netting at the town’s medical station. The mosquito netting wasn’t to keep out mosquitoes, though. It was keeping us safe from the nocturnal “vinchuca,” a nasty insect that carries the disease Chagas. It was a weird feeling to leave the homes of beautiful, healthy Bolivian children each night, knowing they could be exposed to vinchucas while they slept, and head to the safety of my mosquito net.
One of those beautiful children was a girl named “Ana.” Due to an accident when she was a toddler, she could not hear. Since there was no government or private service to help Ana and her family, she could not communicate with others….well, I shouldn’t say she couldn’t communicate. She could not sign, but she did smile all the time, sit dutifully in a desk each school day and mimic the other students’ behaviors, and play soccer! We were told there was a surgery that could most likely restore some of her hearing, but that it would cost thousands of dollars that her family could never earn in a lifetime as farmers in rural southern Bolivia.
On that 4th of July, the three American girls sipped our water treated with purification tablets and enjoyed our weekly shower since it was Saturday. While we loved the town and its people, we also spent the holiday being very thankful that we would soon return to bug-free homes, parasite-free tap water, and to a country where a child like Ana would probably have already had that surgery and individualized education years ago.
On this Independence Day, I am reminded to be thankful for all of the luxuries that I enjoy each day in the United States. Clean tap water, air conditioning, a wide variety of foods to chose from…these are all part of the “freedom from want” that I enjoy. Just last week, we rushed our one-year-old Liam to a hospital just fifteen minutes away, with the reassurance that we had access to a wide range of medical resources, for even the worst-case scenario. In Colon Sur, the nurse at the medical station was the only medical resource available… at all. Mommies in Bolivia love their babies as much as I love mine, but my country of birth gifts me with so many more resources with which to take care of my babies. I am humbled and grateful.
July 4, 1999–big city of New York
Everyone gathered by the Hudson River was looking up, as the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks had begun. I was in New York City for the summer, working as an intern with an organization serving the city’s homeless population. My parents had flown up to spend the holiday with me, as well as my birthday two days later. As I watched the lights in the sky, I also saw the faces of some of the homeless individuals I had met. One lady in particular “stayed with me,” in my memory, and still does to this day. She was an African-American lady who had served as a nurse during the Vietnam War. When I met her on a street in the Times Square area, she seemed so strong in spirit and was very well-spoken in telling me about her daughter. After this United States Veteran had walked away, the social worker I was accompanying informed me that the lady was homeless and that her daughter had been deceased for some time, although she spoke of her as if she were alive.
I wondered if that lady was watching the fireworks too. Was she celebrating our country’s freedom? Had our country taken care of her physically and mentally, after she had given of herself for her country, and personally paid a very high price in doing so? Don’t get me wrong… I am not a “USA-basher,” as I call them… the citizens who always and only point out every fault of our nation, every questionable political decision of past governments… the ones that I would like to send to Bolivia for a summer (see above) just for a little perspective on all that they enjoy in the USA, to perhaps encourage more balance in their assessment of our shared country. If I am to conduct a balanced assessment as well, however, I must declare that this great country has work to do.
On this Independence Day, I am reminded that my country is not properly and entirely caring for its veterans, its youth, its Native Americans… there is work to do. So many Americans give of themselves on a weekly or even daily basis to do this important work, but they need more support. How many politicians are talking to veterans, to teachers, to tribal councils? Am I doing my part in my own community? I am motivated to action.
July 4, 2004–coastal Carolina
I stepped out of the motel room with my one-year-old son Donovan, watching his face to see if he would like the fireworks or be frightened by them. He wasn’t so sure about them, so we stepped back into the room after a few quick moments of looking at the lights in the night sky. Earlier, I had taken pictures of Donovan sitting in the sand, underneath an old fisherman’s pier by the motel. I wanted to preserve those precious moments in time, and also planned to take pictures of him under that pier each year as he grew up. As goes with plans we make, I didn’t even get pictures the next year, and that pier was demolished to make way for a new hotel resort.
On this Independence Day, Donovan is fourteen and not even home with me tonight. He is with extended family at a lake, doing teenager things like playing basketball at midnight. I have twin one-year-old babies asleep in bed, and today I took pictures of them at the lake to again try to preserve these precious moments in time. Like the old pier, I know that their youth will not be there forever as I want it to be. As I looked into the faces of my babies on this holiday, I saw parts of Donovan (still my baby too!) in them, and was reminded that time will pass too quickly for my liking, so I need to use it wisely. Are my priorities properly in place? Do I view and make my choices on how to spend time with eternity in mind? Am I making the most of my time with my babies and my teenager? I am determined to make the time count!
Happy Fourth of July to you, my friend. During this holiday week, may we all be thankful for our blessings, prayerful for those who are hurting, and mindful of what really matters. #lovemycountry #freedom