Memories of July 4th

When I was a kid, my family would go to the local park on July 4th for chicken shish-kabobs, funnel cakes, sno-cones and games. We’d end up at the church nearby to watch the fireworks. My brother and I would roll down the hill, staining our clothes green and arguing over who was faster.  To this day, July 4th feels weird if I don’t get a chicken kabob.

More recently, my husband and I gather with friends or family to grill, maybe play some cornhole or other yard games, and try to catch some fireworks. Last year, we were on the roof of our building in Arlington, struggling to see the national fireworks across the river through the oppressive cloud cover.

One of my favorite Independence Days in recent years came a few years ago. We met up with a friend in Arlington, where we porch-sat and day-drank American beers before heading across the street to a little park for some wiffle-ball. There was only three of us, so it was mostly one person hitting, one pitching, and one fielding. It still felt very patriotic and youthful. As the day moved toward evening, more people showed up. I’m sure we grilled, and I know we took a walk to get ice cream. The grand finale was watching the fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial. It felt beautifully “American”, snuggled on our blanket or crowding along the curb, shoulder to shoulder with strangers of all colors and backgrounds, sitting near one of the most iconic memorials, watching the firework reminders of “bombs bursting in air” that brought us our great nation.

We were sunburnt and sweaty and together, a thousand different stories sharing a single experience for a snapshot in time, celebrating freedom and independence and joy.

Killing Me Softly

How is it that a song can so perfectly capture a complete stranger’s heart? Phantoms drift through a soul, nameless but achingly present, without words to explain the ache or hope or love burning holes through a chest. Then a song will come on and suddenly it all makes sense. Every single lyric is a word plucked from within my heart, every description a tale of my own life.

Lyrics put words to the feelings inside, and the melody spells out in the clearest language the nuances of those feelings, of aches and dreams and faith and fear.

Avalanche by Amasic (originally by Bring Me The Horizon) kills me softly every time. It’s like all of my neurosis and darker days are spelled out in the straightforward yet anguished strums of the guitar.

If I want to dwell on the tragic beauty of the human condition, I can dive into We Fall Apart by We As Human. If I’m in the mood for a darker reflection, I’ll turn to the haunting and desperate Still Alive by Breaking Through.

Nothing reminds me of joy and hope and sunshine like Suburban Legends’ Bright Spring Morning. This song is fun and adventure and a reminder that I can roll down my windows, crank up the radio, and fly away.

I’m not very picky in my music tastes. I’ll listen to anything as long as it moves me in some way — even if just with a really catchy beat. Music infects every part of my life. There’s almost always some song playing on repeat in the back of my mind. If my playlist won’t load, I’ll have an extremely hard time at the gym or driving anywhere. It isn’t a road trip until I’ve rapped along to Forgot About Dre, it isn’t a party until someone starts belting out Don’t Stop Believing, and it isn’t a good writing day unless I’ve started with Waiting in the Moment. I think better with music playing, I write better to a soundtrack, cooking, cleaning, anything is better against a backdrop of tunes.

What about you? Share some of your favorite songs in the comments — I’d love to check them out!

 Enough Already.

When is enough enough? A man opens fire in a theater. An office party is interrupted by gunfire. A woman is murdered on air. A praying congregation is massacred. A classroom of children, slain.

A packed nightclub is riddled with bodies.

The world mourns. The world gets angry. Some call for a complete ban of weapons. Others insist arming the innocent would keep them alive.

The issue isn’t black and white. Why are we still making it so? How is there no possible way to find a compromise between all or nothing?

I grew up on a five acre farm in Virginia. I’ve fired rifles and handguns. I’m not afraid of them. My life has also been touched by gun violence. A friend of my parents–a police officer–was gunned down as she left work by a kid with two AK-47s and a grudge against the police.

She was armed; she may have fired back. A handgun is still little defense against an assault rifle. I don’t remember the details of the incident; I remember the after. I remember the phone ringing, and the sound of my mother falling to the kitchen floor, the noise ripping from her so hysterical for a moment I thought she was laughing. I remember my father repeating “no” into the phone, as if he could change the news.

I do believe in the right to keep and bear arms. I don’t think all the guns in this country should be banned. I do wonder how the hell the ban on assault rifles expired and no one has reinstated it. There’s owning guns, and then there’s arming oneself for battle.

As an American, I should have the right to not need to arm myself to feel safe. I believe my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be contingent on a concealed-carry permit. My safety shouldn’t have to reside in a handful of steel tucked in my purse or a bedside drawer. I don’t want to attend a class where my teacher or the students beside me have guns strapped to their waists. I want to walk into a classroom or a movie theater or a night club and not have to worry if these are the last breaths I’ll take.

I know safety isn’t guaranteed, no matter the precautions taken. I know at any moment, due to any number of reasons, the next breath I take is not promised. I’m not asking to be put in a bubble.

I am asking: what are we doing to make things a little bit safer? Because each time it happens, the “liberals” call for gun control and the “conservatives” frantically point to the Constitution.

A large group of prominent voices in this country is too quick to blame anything but the weapon. Of course, the basis of their argument is sound. The gun doesn’t aim itself or pull its own trigger. Blaming the weapon is like blaming a car for an accident or a pencil for poor spelling. I’m sure we’ve all seen the bumper stickers and t-shirts and whatever else making these sorts of comparisons.

But the argument shouldn’t end there. It shouldn’t be so simple as throwing up one’s hands and saying “it’s not the gun’s fault so you can’t take it away.”

So who is to blame? The answers to that question are cut and dry, both vague and appropriately specific enough to distract from the fact they’re just fluff: Criminals. Mentally Unstable. Radical Islamists. Domestic Terrorists.

I think we can do better than that, and we should be asking deeper questions. How do criminals get guns? Fine, you say they’re criminals and therefore obtain the guns illegally. What about the mentally unstable? Or those self-radicalizing terrorists who’ve yet to commit a crime? It is dangerously naive to insist that increasing background check requirements for gun ownership will only hurt the law-abiding citizens.

The San Bernadino shooters were law-abiding citizens, before they attacked their co-workers. The Uber driver in Michigan was a law-abiding citizen, until he went on a rampage. The Virginia Tech student didn’t have any priors, but he massacred a campus.

Maybe a more stringent background check would have picked up the ties to ISIS, the anger issues or the mental instability. Maybe, if in order to purchase a gun we had to complete an assessment on our home life, on the family members who may obtain access to our weapons, families in Newtown, Connecticut would be whole. Maybe denying guns to those on the No Fly list might have meant those hundred people would have returned home from a night of dancing, instead of ending up in a hospital in Orlando or worse.

As a law-abiding citizen, I would feel far safer if it took me weeks of assessments and checks before I was approved for a gun purchase.

Sure, criminals will still get their guns illegally. But rather than bemoaning that fact and wringing our hands, or insisting the rest of us should build up our own arsenal, doesn’t it make sense to look at the system and acknowledge it is broken? Wouldn’t it be a better use of our time and energy working to increase mental health rather than clinging to our guns without offering any solution? Wouldn’t it be something at least, just to tighten up the requirements already in place, take the worst of the weapons out of  private citizens’ hands, and make it that much harder for a currently law-abiding, as yet undiagnosed-mentally-unstable, bitter citizen to wrap their fingers around the very weapons we’ve been told will keep us safe?