NASCAR has made me more conscious of patriotism as a week-to-week concept and not something to think about just once a year.
Every weekend, there is a new rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” NASCAR fans take their national anthem seriously. They don’t much like it when people foist their own interpretations of it on them.
Watch NASCAR long enough and you, too, will become a “Star Spangled Banner” critic. Still, I’ve heard rock bands and country bands, school marching bands and military choirs and little kids. I’ve heard operatic versions and almost-rap versions. And the point of it all is that however it is played or sung, seeing 100,000-plus people standing with their hands over their hearts every week creates a kind of awareness I didn’t have before.
Especially since it is preceded by an honor guard presenting the nation’s colors and a huge flag and a large military presence and followed by a flyover of helicopters or fighter jets or enormous carrier planes.
We celebrate our freedoms on the Fourth of July, but sometimes those freedoms can seem illusory. They are bound by laws and responsibilities and expectations. I hear people say that we’re losing our freedoms. Too many laws. You can’t just go out there and do as you please like Americans used to be able to back in the day.
And that’s true. You can hardly breathe without a license — to drive, to cut hair, to sell candy. Heck, you need a building permit to put up a fence on your own darn property.
People gripe about all the laws until a particular one benefits them.
None of us want our neighbor to put a junk yard next door to our house, and I suppose, generally, we want to think the guy that we hire to install our new wiring or the girl we patronize to color our hair has at least some minimal standard of competence, or that the kitchen from which we bought the birthday cake meets the cleanliness test.
Mostly all of this has to do with becoming too big. When our neighbor babysat our kids or our friend cut our hair or the kid we went to high school with replaced the brakes on the car, we were familiar enough with them to trust them. When it is strangers doing all these things, we want some kind of assurance to come along with them.
Many of our liberties are dependent on dollars. Most of us will spend at least 40 hours a week doing something we’d rather not do at a place we’d rather not be because we need our wages to survive.
People who win millions in the lottery almost always say they aren’t going to quit their jobs or radically change their lifestyles, but they usually don’t mean it. Eventually, work cuts into the time they want to spend going and seeing and doing what they can now afford to go and see and do. I’d probably book a trip to Ireland tomorrow if I won the lottery today.
Beyond all that, we are limited by cultural norms. Maybe some of us would cut loose more than we do if we weren’t concerned about the opinions and approval of our communities. Society dictates what we do more than we think.
My friend told me she hopes her daughter never takes up smoking as she did when she was a teenager. I told her I don’t think she has to worry because her daughter wants to fit in with the norm and smoking isn’t cool anymore. Only those who deliberately set out to provoke the system will be smokers nowadays (and, of course, they are conforming, too, in their own way).
My friend does still probably need to worry about sex though because as a culture, we still promote and glamorize sex on television and in movies and music. And alcohol as well. Some of our most seductive commercials revolve around alcohol.
So, complete freedom isn’t in the cards for most of us. We aren’t going to be able to take off across the country in a Conestoga wagon and build a homesteaded ranch out of the wilderness or start a business from scratch without paying the government its due in licensing fees and taxes.
But when you watch the planes fly and hear the anthem sung on Sunday before the race, you still feel a thrill of pride that you can travel as you please and move if you choose and attend the church that suits you (or no church at all) and join whatever profession you like (dependent on meeting the requirements, of course).
All in all, considering the size and population of our country and the dangerousness of the modern world, we are probably still as free as it is possible to be.
Happy Fourth of July, America.
• Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at email@example.com.