This weekend, on July 4th, America will be celebrating its 244th birthday. Two hundred and forty-four years of achievement, hardship, and struggle. America has not had a perfect history by any means, but in the long term, it has always been the goal of the American experiment to be a beacon of hope, equality, and justice for nations and people around the world. Compared to most other nations, America is but a child. There are bars and restaurants in Ireland that are hundreds of years older than our entire country. It’s easy to watch what’s going on and to make exaggerated comparisons to the Roman Empire. But Rome lasted nearly 1500 years before it reached its breaking point. Even as we get together, whether in person or at a distance with family and friends this year, we can celebrate the best of America while striving to make it even better, to make the transition from a young nation with a troubled past into a wiser grown-up nation of the future.
In many ways, one of the charms of Saxapahaw is that it feels like it embodies that American ideal. We don’t always agree with each other, but at the end of the day, we’re able to come together— the farmers, the shopkeepers, the artisans, the hard-working men and women— and share in our bounty, and the results of our own pursuits, to come together as one group of fiercely independent people, united under the shared pursuit to make life better for ourselves, and for future generations.
At this point, all of us in and around Saxapahaw have been affected in some way by the tumultuous events of this year, and it’s made all of us rethink the world we want to live in, and what kind of America America is, and what kind of America it should be. Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and 18th President of the United States, once noted that each individual is a work in progress, saying “The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; to suffer. I signify all three.” Leading America through the pains of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Grant also knew that America is a verb, a thing that is not static, but changing over time; the Civil War was only one moment in the early life of the United States where it barely survived. We will continue to face existential challenges from without and within, and as long as we can adhere to the lofty ideals upon which America was founded– that all humans are created equal and deserve equal treatment under the law– we can keeping growing as a nation.
What if the America that we are destined to be is one that doesn’t put profits over people, but people over raw profitability? What if it’s an America that values and rewards those who respect each other and respect our environment? What if it’s an America that survives and thrives because of our diversity and not despite it? If we see something is broken or isn’t working, isn’t it our responsibility to try and fix it?
This year has confronted us with ways that we can interact more respectfully with each other and the natural world, and in order for this to be more than a passing fad, we have to listen to each other, look deeply inside ourselves and be willing to have the flexibility to be a verb. Thomas Jefferson, the mighty architect of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, enshrined the idea that the creator endowed all humans with three unalienable rights— “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When Jefferson wrote these words, not all humans were able to achieve these rights, and he was aware of the world in which he lived. Jefferson was a slave owner, but did not support slavery. He considered it an evil inherited by British colonialism, yet also lamented and feared that because slavery was so essential in large scale agriculture at the time, abolishing the evil practice would immediately threaten the ability of the 13 colonies to become one United States, and he was right– still to this day, the United States and the rest of the world are fighting to strip away the ugly legacy of colonialism.
Even if we can’t physically join together right now at the General Store’s communal table, exchanging ideas, innovations, and fellowship, we can still be united in a commitment to sustainability, inclusion, and change benefitting all of us. We can celebrate America’s 244th birthday with a promise to keep learning, listening, and improving— it’s what this whole experiment has been about. It’s an imperfect work in progress, but it’s our home.
Have a happy and safe July 4th weekend. If you come out to Saxapahaw, we’ll be open, serving up sustainably sourced, locally grown, and resilient food. Please respect us and our community by wearing a face mask if you enter the General Store, the Eddy Pub, Left Bank Butchery, Freehand Market, or Haw River Farmhouse Ales. Help us support local business, so that our farmers, beekeepers, artisans, thinkers, and dreamers can continue their pursuit of happiness. If you’re going hiking or kayaking on the river, having a picnic on the grass or enjoying a beer while watching the sun set, please don’t litter or leave anything other than light footprints in the dirt.