So, you may have noticed I missed a week, which is odd because I had something written, not this but something. My excuse is this – COVID has warped my sense of time, I go to make my Thursday call on Tuesday then on Friday I wonder how I missed Thursday. Holidays have the potential to go unnoticed too – I’m horrible with dates so forgetting my own birthday is fairly easy even in the best of times. But I’m not letting the Fourth of July go without notice.

The Fourth of July has always been big in my family – it was my father’s favorite holiday and I have spent one Fourth away from Massachusetts since we moved there, this weekend will be the second. The Fourth in New York was fireworks and BBQs but it never held a candle to the Norman Rockwell-esque celebration that Needham offers. On the third of July the family heads to the high school to watch the big fireworks display and then walk back home. On the Fourth, everyone was up by 8 and while the family (usually the whole extended family squeezed into a three-bedroom house with no AC) ate breakfast and listened for the sirens. When the sirens rang around 9, we headed out the door and walked the 4 blocks to our seats for the parade. The parade brought together bands from across the country and all the organizations around town.

After the parade we headed home for our BBQ and a stop at the local flea market. But once the parade was over the BBQ was the main activity, family, friends, coworkers all stopped by throughout the day. One year I even brought all of the non-New Hampshire based Shaheen campaign staffers to my parent’s house after a day of parades. There was volleyball in the front yard, croquet in the back, Buffett on the radio, tiki torches lit to keep the bugs away, a feast on the grill and cold ones in the cooler.

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I once asked my dad why the Fourth was “his” holiday and his answer was simple but I think it has so much resonance today. Every other holiday is about “family” – it’s the big dinner with people you have to be with, my father did not come from the closest family so those days weren’t his favorite. But the Fourth is about the family you built, it was open to everyone and it had no set agenda – it was just a day to enjoy the summer weather, your friends, music, good food and a beer. It was the day he celebrated the community he built and his community is always growing. My friends, my cousins-in-law and various neighbors still stop by and everyone who has ever been knows that they are always welcome to return.

In a year when we can’t gather, when there are no fireworks and no parades, I can’t help think about the communities we’ve built ourselves. Over the last few months its those communities that have shined. For some of us it may be our family, for some of us it’s neighbors we decided to quarantine with or those we now meet around socially distant fire pits, for some it’s a volunteer group that helped front liners or other community members, in my town those communities include “booze fairies” or “Sippin sisters” and “snack attackers” leaving anonymous gifts to brighten people’s day. These are the communities that have gotten us through – the communities that gave us focus, that supported us on the rough days and celebrated (distantly) with us when that first perfect loaf came out.

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the birth of our nation which is quite honestly the ultimate in celebrations of communities we build ourselves – friends, neighbors and family who banded together to fight for their freedoms, disregard their own discomfort and safety and built our nation.

 I see that same spirit today in our communities – as we march together for Black Lives Matter, as we order take out from our local restaurant despite the uncertainty of our own paychecks, as we sew masks to share with children preparing to return to school. Each of these actions shows that our communities place the good of the whole above their own personal comfort. Each of these actions builds a stronger community and shows that the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers has not died but is alive in every person who seeks to raise up their neighbor rather than protect their own fiefdom.

The Fourth of July to me has always been a celebration of the communities we make ourselves and this year more than ever I have much to celebrate.  I hope you do too and I hope that we all continue to build up our communities.