74. July 4

I’m writing this article on July 4, 1995. You’re reading it later than that. Today many people will be celebrating a time when lots of people got together to make a statement that was quite bold. There were also a lot of people who probably thought the rebels were trouble- makers: These are a bunch of English colonies; love ’em or leave ’em.
The last time I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands was in 1960. I was twelve years old, and the words didn’t seem to say what I felt. I also had trouble thinking about “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” giving proof that our flag was there. I preferred to think I lived in a country that had “spacious skies,” “amber waves of grain,” and majestic “purple mountains,” as Katherine Lee Bates, another Wellesley teacher who dabbled in songwriting, put it.
It’s not that I don’t love this section of earth that we live on. I do. Especially one section of the bike trail that goes from Amherst to Northampton. The wildflowers, dragonflies, joggers,
bikers, chipmunks, the foothills of the Berkshires in the background, all make me feel like pledging allegiance to them. I know there are probably fantastic places in Zimbabwe, Uruguay, Nepal, and Manitoba that would stir up similar feelings of allegiance in me.
The people who got together to form the United States had some good ideas. Leaving room for amendments to the Constitution was a stroke of genius. It was a way of saying to the people of the future, “We may not have taken all possibilities into account.” So some of their mistakes – leaving out women, leaving in slavery – could be corrected without undoing the whole thing.
But in 1960, I decided that I could not pledge allegiance to the flag or the republic. It would be a promise I couldn’t keep. What if the republic did something really dumb? Was I supposed to pretend it was okay? And though I stood up at assemblies, put my right hand over my heart, and moved my lips, I didn’t say the words. If I had, I would have been lying. I pledge allegiance to the truth as I see it.
I also pledge allegiance to the earth, the only planet I’ve ever lived on, and being somewhat provincial, the only one I feel like living on. I pledge allegiance to the plants and animals here – the animals more than the plants, and the humans more than the mosquitoes. I’m a little embarrassed about my anthropocentrism, but so be it. So I’ll be thinking these thoughts when I see the fireworks this evening. I’ll be thinking about the beautiful thunderstorms I’ve witnessed, and not the rockets’ red glare or the bombs bursting in air. I don’t like them. But I’m glad I live among the amber waves of grain.

Comments are closed.