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art theplaceStanding on the edge of the cliff, I knew what I had to do. Fifty feet above Fort Loudoun Lake in Knoxville, I looked out over the pristine waters, down at my friends heckling me from the boat, and jumped. One, two, three, splash.

I emerged from the depths as if birthed into the world by Mother Nature herself. I yelled in celebration of another day in paradise, with the cherry on top it being the 4th of July. 

I must say, America looks pretty damn good for 239. And this year might be the most important birthday since our inception. Even as a journalist, one entrenched daily in pop culture and news, this year was a rollercoaster of the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Amid all the hotly tested racial tensions and violence, police brutality, poisonous political rhetoric and worldwide strife on seemingly every front, we are, I think, still alive in the most incredible era of human history. Sure, there’s a lot to improve on, within this country and society in general — we will always be a moving target, a work-in-progress with the end goal being peace and harmony. 

Each and every day, I’m lucky enough to bare witness to the wonders of the mankind. I dive into stranger’s lives, in search of what makes them tick, and how they are a unique and vital piece to the puzzle of the greater good. Even as we stand in a world of bloodshed and bullshit, I have found, in all honesty, that the average person on this planet is a caring, compassionate and curious being, who laughs, cries, hurts and loves just like you and me. 

Therefore, when good ole Independence Day rolls around, I try to think of what good we as Americans have achieved, on our soil and beyond. As I barrel my way through barbecue, beers and backyard mayhem on this day of days, the lens I view all of these festivities through is a kaleidoscope of cosmic beauty. 

Growing in a small town, the 4th of July was the biggest event of the year. Well that, and the annual chicken roast, put on by the Rouses Point Sportsman’s Club. A tiny community, way up on the Canadian border, on the shores of Lake Champlain, RP comes alive on the 4th. Riding my bike around town, waving at friends, family and neighbors who claimed their territory along Lake Street (the main parade route) in preparation for marching bands, fire trucks and boatloads of free candy. 

And even as a kid, I was truly aware of how special those images and moments were. As the years went along, it was about holding hands with a high school crush during the fireworks display or throwing down some adult beverages at the community beer tent with chums I only got to see when I was home from college on break. 

That town and those people are forever chiseled on my brain, like fingerprints on a clean glass. It has been years since I was up in my hometown for America’s birthday. And wherever I do land on the 4th, from Maine to Tennessee, Idaho to Michigan, I think fondly of those back in RP, and I wonder how they’re doing. I see those fireworks explode in the sky and smile in utter joy of being alive — an active participant in the grand scheme of things.

Though New Year’s Eve has always been my personal checkpoint of physical and emotional happiness, the 4th is the halfway mark, where I stop for second and appreciate the beautiful faces, places and spaces surrounding my current position. 

We have a lot to be thankful for, here and abroad. I, for one, am a self-proclaimed “optimistic realist.” I hope for the best, but prepare of the worst. In that, I’ll always keep my head up, but also am subconsciously watching my step as to not trip and fall on my face. And if I stumble and rumble to the ground, then I’ll simply get back up and keep on keepin’ on. It’s what our forefathers believed when they broke away from the British and kicked off this crazy idea called the United States, where you’re free to do what you want to do with your life and be who you want to be, without fear of persecution or ridicule. 

Yes, 239 years later, we’re still in heat of battle against injustice, but isn’t it pretty incredible we as a common people have yet to give up on achieving that utopian freedom we imagined almost two and a half centuries ago? 

And this past 4th, as we docked our boat and headed for the hot tub by the lake, I lit a cigar I was saving for a special occasion. Just as the flame hit the tobacco, the first firework was launched from a nearby marina. I watched it erupt across the sky. I was within arm’s reach of my best friends, a cold beer and the warm depths of modern luxury. All was good in the world, for tomorrow is another day to once again pursue the finest threads of dignity and grandeur within our glorious souls. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

 

Hot picks

1 The Sylva Art Stroll will be from 5 to 8:30 p.m. July 10 in downtown Sylva. 

2 The “Way Back When” trout dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. July 17 at the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley.

3 The Strand at 38 Main (Waynesville) will have The Freeway Revival (rock/jam) at 8 p.m. July 9.

4 The Glenville Area Historical Society “History Tour” will begin at 10 a.m. July 18.

5 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will have Hangdog Hearts with Filthy Still & Gallows Bound (bluegrass/punk) at 9 p.m. July 10.

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