I was in San Francisco for the 4th of July this year. My spouse, CB, and I staked out a small plot of ground near the Bay to watch the fireworks. It was cool and crowded, but I was filled with anticipation. We listened to a live band and watched the hordes of people and pups that came out to celebrate our nation’s birthday.
We pulled up to San Francisco the Sunday before. As we approached our neighborhood the last remnants of the Pride Festival that had taken place that weekend were being removed. However, the court house was still bathed in an array of lights and rainbow flags wafted in the breeze in honor of the celebration. The mood was joyous for the GBLT community and their supporters fresh from hearing the Supreme Court ruling that ended California’s ban on same-sex marriage and struck down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act earlier that week.
Now my spouse and I were gathered among a throng of Americans sitting near the proverbial dock of the bay awaiting a fireworks display. I don’t like crowds. In fact I’m a bit claustrophobic, but since it is rare that I get to celebrate Independence Day in a balmy environment, I decided I could endure the crowds for a few hours.
We knew what to expect. CB’s co-workers, and the friendly cashier at Trader Joe’s informed us that the festivities were impressive, but the crowds were daunting. We had walked some five miles earlier that day and enjoyed a bright, sunny day meandering through the city, walking alongside a stream of cars ready to descend Lombard’s crooked street, popped into the Maritime Museum, chatted with a woman about America’s cup and then through the park on our way toward a bus stop near the Golden Gate Bridge.
We boarded a crowded bus (standing room only) and rolled along to within a few blocks of the studio apartment we were staying at for CB’s temporary assignment. We were both exhausted from our long walk. Once we entered our small apartment we fell into a deep sleep. It would have been easy to blow off the festivities and give in to nocturnal bliss (and give my aching dogs a respite) but I really wanted to enjoy a fireworks display in less than the triple digit heat that I had become accustomed to in Arizona.
The buses were even more crowded than before, so I forgot about the $2 I had stuck into my pocket for bus fare and we followed the throng of folks walking to the event. We arrived shortly before 9 p.m. and the place was jammed with people of every conceivable background. A young father in dred locks and his boisterous son sat in front of us, a Korean family sat to our left and several young men stood behind us, happily chatting in a mixture of Spanish and English.
At 9:30 p.m. the first fireworks were launched in sync with a variety of patriotic music. Further down the bay, a simultaneous display of sight and sound filled the air. The fireworks were awe inspiring. Everyone was silent except for the ahs and ohs and occasional bursts of applause at the spectacle.
I looked across the bay and thought of the thousands of people around me. People of all ethnicities, ages, religions and sexual orientation gathered peacefully together in very close quarters without a single fight. Even though I do not like being in a crowd, I thought it was a mild inconvenience compared to what my Swedish grandmother must have endured during her long boat passage to Ellis Island. How I wish I would have asked her more about her journey. What did my paternal grandfather and his elderly mother think as they exited the pogroms in Russia to find their way to Canada, and eventually the U.S. to begin a new life?
I am a second generation American on three sides of my family and potential DAR member on my maternal grandfather’s side. Yet I know I am the product of ancestors who faced great hardships to settle in this magnificent country. Most of the time it is something I take for granted. But sitting in the diverse crowd I thought of how grateful I was to be an American. As I looked around me I had new respect for the people surrounding me who, despite individual differences, wanted the same things I did.
Truth be known, we admire our individuality, but we cannot exist without each other. From the farmer who grows our food, the bus drivers who drive us to our destinations, the police officers directing traffic, to the sanitation workers hauling away our garbage, all have an important role in our lives.
As CB and I headed homeward and followed the throng through the streets (again the buses were too crowded and we had to hoof it) I thought of how this 4th of July would be forever etched into the hearts of the GLBT community. Although there is more work to be done, definitive steps have been taken in guaranteeing the rights of all Americans.
I am truly grateful to be an American. I may not always be at peace with the prejudice and hatred that still exists in the hearts of so many, but after spending a few days in San Francisco during a very historic week, I am hopeful we can attain the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that is promised to us in our constitution.
On July 4th we celebrate our independence from Britain. My hope for the future is that we take a look around at our fellow human beings who silently take a role in our lives and recognize and honor our interdependence to one another. Then, and only then, will we truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave.