I'm at the amusement park on the 4th of July. We came late, The Boy and I, because we are staying for the fireworks. He can handle any ride; I am more selective. My time waiting on benches affords me an unusual opportunity for people watching.
The Boy sits alone in a car on a spinny ride. I once delighted in them as well, but my inner ear has aged to the point of extreme nausea. I see him chattering to himself before the ride begins. A giant grin builds across his face, soaring and whirling above me. This. This is why we came here. He sprints toward me afterward, shouting his joy before racing off to the roller coaster. I overcome my fear and ride with him, eating my stomach as it rises to my throat, breathing deeply afterward. We ride two, then three, and finally I point him to another spinner so I can sit and calm myself. My eyes--and my ears--turn again to the people around me.
The air swirls with the scents of chlorine from the water park, beer, and sunscreen. I hear surges of screams from the thrill rides, mostly drowned by top-forty hits on the piped music. The wave pool surprised me with twenty minutes of lively classical tunes. I may have been the only person to appreciate it; the cheerful gasps and splutters of swimmers were more noticeable. I remember that it's the 4th of July. Once, when I worked in a grocery store, a woman asked me "I know it's Independence Day, but independence from what?" I like to think I answered kindly, explaining simply the roots of the celebration, but I was young and cruel then. I don't remember what I said. Now I see that same cruelness ripple across the internet, slicing and mocking those who think differently and I strive to set a better example. I often fail.
Right now, though, my heart swells with a universal love of my country and my compatriots. My fellow Americans. The phrase has more meaning here in a small typical theme park. Mixed with the scents of popcorn and corn dogs is the sound of Spanish and African languages I don't recognize. I catch the cadence of Arabic, Korean, Chinese. I watch and see an idealized cross-section of the United States. Women in burkas shepherd their children past white teeny boppers in minute bikinis. Latinos chat with the black families waiting next to them in line. A mulleted white man in a sleeveless tank top, a flag and cross tattooed on his bicep, ushers a lesbian couple and their children into a line ahead of him. It's a tiny courtesy, but the sweetness of it causes a hitch in my breathing.
We are here, all of us, together. There's a harmony of purpose and pleasure. We share the exasperation of parents with over tired children. Adults smile knowingly at the charged flirting of teenagers, who glance sidelong at each other from the safety of their packs. We cross our usual boundaries to comment on the weather, the day, querying each other on where best to see the show. Here, today, we are all the same. We are enjoying a holiday with our families and friends. We all holler with delight at the fireworks shattering the sky above. Whatever our differences, right now, here, we all are Americans.