It’s July 4. A repost from one year ago:
“Do you remember America?” the curious person will ask one night, in a darkened tavern as they nurse their second or third drink. “The country tried to codify freedom and democracy? I mean, sure, at first it was only for a few of their citizens, but it was a start, right? They got better at it. And sure, getting better took a whole lot of spilled blood over a couple hundred years, and even when they said ‘Sure, fine, you’re free now,’ they came up with ways to keep you from really being free…but really, do you remember America? That country that tamed an entire wilderness! I mean, sure, they seized that wilderness from people already living there, but still. Do you remember America? The country that made polio a memory? I mean, sure, less than a hundred years later they tried to ignore a new disease, but that was pretty neat, right? And they went to the Moon! I mean, sure, that was so they could feel better about getting there first against a country that doesn’t exist anymore, and they never went again or did much about that, but still. Do you remember America?”
“I remember,” a voice will say, probably from the back of the tavern. A raspy voice, an old voice, unable to speak loudly much at all anymore. A hat drawn down over a haunted face, scarred and weathered by time. “I remember America.” And they will lift their whiskey to their mouth.
“What happened to it?” the curious person will ask.
And the person at the end of the bar will swallow their whiskey and look off into the distance, what little distance there is, and eventually they will shrug. “We did,” they’ll say. “We happened to America.”
And the person will drain their whiskey and leave out the back door. Those remaining who heard this exchange will puzzle over it for a bit, but eventually they’ll return their attention to whatever else is going on–a sporting event on the television, perhaps, or some story about what happened at work that day. You don’t often talk about fallen nations and collapsed empires at the tavern after work, you see.
But maybe the curious person won’t turn all their attention back to the dull conversation going on around them. Maybe some part of their imagination will linger there on the memory of a nation, born in fire and too much blood, a nation that aspired but fell short, a nation that rose higher and fell lower than it should have.
And they’ll wonder. Maybe.