Hurray, The Fourth of July! As a kid from Kansas, it meant my brothers lighting firecrackers under boxes and in ant hills. Crowds of potato-chip gobbling Midwesterners holding their ears and looking up at a less than spectacular spectacle of a fireworks displayed from the Walmart Parking lot. Dozens of other old-car driving, bottle-rocket shooting, pop-drinking merrymakers surround us. But no public booze here in Kansas, home of Carrie Nation, when I was growing up.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa Fourth-of-July is the week of The Freedom Festival. Dragonboat Races on the Cedar River, Water Shows, a Cardboard Boat Regatta, softball games, Concerts, Food, and Fun.
For me, my All-American 250 Chevy Silverado crew cab, decorated in red-white-and-blue, sits down in the Library parking lot from early in the morning until after the fireworks have erupted from Mays' Island at eleven at night. Around five, I begin ferrying in water, pop, beer, wine, chips, fruit, veggie trays, and lawn chairs, blankets, and a boombox. This is my one 'tail-gate' party of the year.
I populate my truck bed, the top of my cab, and surrounds with friends and their families. Robin and Paige, with whom I went to see the Dalai Lama; Dennis and his two daughters, who are now both tall, naturally ash blond, and gorgeous like their mom; my daughters, or at least one, would come; and anyone else in range of my voice. We could sit eat, drink, and watch the world walk by in the huge crowds, waving to the occasional person we knew. The kids were flowing back and forth as they looked for schoolmates, and stopped to talk. Thank -God when cell phones came along to help us find each other in the thousands of revelers.
Funnel cakes, slushies, cotton candy, gyros, tacos, and sushi came from stands of food and drinks, and lines to rival Disneyland. Lines, too, at the rows of twenty porta-poties. Over a hundred thousand people crowd into the downtown bridges and streets for the evening by the river, and fireworks choreographed to patriotic songs broadcast over 98.5 fm, .
Last year that all ended.
The Downtown, the Library, was under twelve feet of flood water on June 13th, and still covered with toxic slime July 4th.
The Freedom Festival was canceled. (Or to be exact, postponed until September.)
There is no freedom without a place to live, a place to be safe, food, shelter, and community. There is no freedom in loss and depression. There is no freedom in uncertainty and despair.
Last year, on the Fourth, I spent a hot day with four friends mucking out toxic sludge and removing five layers of flooring from my one-hundred-and-nine year old, three story Victorian house.
The elderly couple who had owned the house for thirty-some years, and brought it back from the dead when they bought it, were driven by their granddaughter to see the destruction for themselves that hot day.
The man stayed in the air-conditioned silver Buick, but I gently lead the stooped woman with her walker through the now stripped base flooring and open studded walls.
"We found a hidden stairway," I showed her the bones of a door to a wide, winding staircase now open. Before, a bathtub and wall had shut it out.
She laughed. She had never seen it, but years ago, she told me, she and her daughter poked little trinkets through a small hole in the back of a closet wondering what lay beyond that hole.
I carefully led her outside and down the stairs. She asked, "Are you going to fix it?"
"Yes. of course." My answer was confident with the adrenaline from disaster that now,a year later, has long run dry.
This year, it rains. A slow, steady dripping rain.
I don't have the stomach for the "celebration" in the rain. I don't have the stomach for the celebration at all. Or maybe I don't have the heart for it.
I do know that it will come back.
That where there is heart, love, cooperation, and compassion, all things can be overcome.
That in some way I can bring the kind of freedom we lost in The Flood to others, including those who have never had it.
That somehow as I open my heart to others, my mission will become clear.
That when I least expect it, the destruction will open a hidden stairway to the future.
"With Liberty and Justice for All."