It’s the Fourth of July, another unofficial “social solstice” that rings in a season of sweltering heat, late nights and (most years) exploration. Whether it’s a lake an hour away or an ocean across the country, millions of Americans take to road and sky this time of year to see another part of this grand piece of land where we eat, breathe, stress, relax, live and love. (Last year, even in the midst of worldwide lockdowns — or rather, especially because of them — more than 34 million Americans road tripped over the holiday weekend.)
You may remember that back in 2017, my family and I set out on a 5,700-mile cross-country journey from Indianapolis to the Pacific Ocean waters of Washington State and back. While driving through the dusty plains of Nebraska, past the sunflower-lined highways of sparsely settled Wyoming, mind-numbingly slowly in downtown Seattle traffic and along the ribbon of road snaking fearlessly close to mountain drop-offs in Oregon, it’s hard to miss the majesty of the land’s various personalities.
Of course, that isn’t limited to the land. We’re a constantly moving group of people with different ideas, backgrounds, passions and solutions — and honestly, that’s one of the reasons I love America. There’s beauty in difference, in openness to learning something new, in expressing individuality while also showing respect and compassion for others. For some Americans, America is great. For others, it’s not where it needs to be, to the point where one of our most recognizable emblems doesn’t feel like a symbol of home to them. (To be fair, there’s a lot of heated discussion about this lately.) And this day, arguably the most patriotic day of the year, is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the freedoms we have while also acknowledging the many ugly truths that shaped history — and, most importantly, taking action to prevent any current and future ugliness, in the forms of hate and indifference, from making this (still relatively young) nation not feel like a safe, welcoming place for all.
When I wrote my “Ode to America… and Indiana” back in 2018, I posed the question, “What makes America… America?” We’re so many, MANY different things all at once, which makes this incredibly difficult to answer. But one of the aspects I’ve noticed over the past few years is the vast number of people with a strong intent to help but no idea where to start. And thus, my ode to America is actually an ode to anyone who sees America’s weaknesses and has a desire to eliminate them. What better patriotism and respect than investing time and energy into making our country better?
So, acknowledging both sides of the Lincoln penny or Washington quarter, I’m first sharing some actions and resources I’ve found helpful in keeping the best parts of America alive and making your voice heard, regardless of personal beliefs. Then keep scrolling for some of my favorite photos from trips around the country the past several years.
- Support local businesses. The pandemic has sucked the life out of so many regional shops, restaurants and attractions that bring flavor to our area — the same businesses that give tourists an idea of who we are as Hoosiers. If we want our country to keep its myriad of regional cultures and cuisines, supporting entrepreneurs through our wallets and word of mouth is a great way to preserve them. And of course, I have to give a shoutout to designers and other artists in Indiana’s fashion community — this IS primarily a fashion and lifestyle blog, after all — several of whom were just featured in this month’s issue of Indianapolis Monthly.
- Have you ever written your representative? You hear people say, “Dissatisfied with [insert law, court decision, etc.]? Call or write your rep.” But I’ve always wondered how many actually do. In fact, I spent decades feeling like there was an unspoken rule: That even though I have the right to share my opinion, it should be reserved for a true activist, or someone who it directly impacts. But that’s not true, especially if you want to be a strong ally for a marginalized group that you’re not part of, and I’m glad to have a friend who made me feel like I had “permission” to write a letter to a rep, just as I am. So if you’re like me and ever feel like you’re not politically active enough, smart enough, eloquent enough to make your opinion count, my gift to you is the knowledge that your views are worth sharing. Make this country your own. Find your representative here.
- Learn as much of America’s history as possible, from as many different sources as possible. That’s how we get more realistic pictures of our Founding Fathers and presidents and (in my opinion) develop more realistic expectations for current leaders in all industries, not just politics. Someone in power can do both great and horrible things, and neither necessarily cancels out the other. Thanks to Indy’s great system of libraries, you can do a lot of this research for free!
- Include historical locations in your trips. Even if you’re headed for a lighthearted beach or camping vacation, make a quick stop at a place that holds some truth about America’s past and present, whether triumphant (like Fort McHenry in Baltimore), plot-turning (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) or painful (the 9/11 Memorial and Museum). On a future trip, I plan to visit the Whitney Plantation, a 501c3 nonprofit in Louisiana that focuses on the lives of enslaved people, which recently reconfirmed why it’s chosen to not host weddings or celebratory events out of consideration of its origins.
And speaking of travel, let’s end on an inspirational note: Here are a few of my favorite snaps from the Pacific Northwest, Midwestern plains and Eastern forests — just a small glimpse of America’s everyday beauty.
Happy 4th of July!