Around lunchtime on Wednesday, I stood in the shallows of the Connecticut River with my husband and two dogs, cooling my calves and feet, basking in an opportunity to get out of the heat. It was just the four of us playing on a thin expanse of sandy beach, but there were dozens of boats and Jet-Skis motoring back and forth, throwing wakes that rippled toward us like little waves that the corgi bobbed over while fetching sticks. Across that relatively narrow spot in the river, we could see dozens of other people in bathing suits on the other side with colorful umbrellas and towels — and grills that I couldn’t see, but I could smell. There were as many people outside as one would expect on a hot holiday, and we made for a bit of a crowd, albeit a spread out one.
A large white fiberglass boat packed with brown-skinned passengers blared Bachata music, which travelled a long way across the water, and I swayed to it. Two guys with winter-white chests waded out on the opposite shoreline, and I hoped they had remembered sunscreen. Farther down, a number of boats congregated and people chatted with each other over the bows, clinked beers. Kids sped by trailing boats on skis and inner tubes waving at us, and we waved back. Everyone was having fun relaxing in the most American summer ways: enjoying the beautiful outdoors, hanging out with friends and family, sharing food and drink — while celebrating a holiday born of this country’s desire to own its identity.
In this era of major divisions, it’s often hard to feel part of a community or proud of who we are collectively, but in that one small moment, things seemed better — more basically human and connected — than they have in a while. Even while I was thinking that this 4th was particularly fraught, everyone on the river was at least joined in a sort of similar moment of pure fun, which seemed pretty great given the current climate, even if it was just a temporary watersports truce or a collective sigh due to having a day off of work. The United States may not be very united right now, but don’t we agree that our lands are beautiful? It was good to see so many enjoying them together.
I’ve been especially appreciative of nature lately with its ability to restore me after serious adrenal fatigue, and I believe everyone benefits from a moment of relaxed contemplation or meditation in the Great Outdoors. Mostly, for me, that has meant getting away from people. This time, because I could see (and hear and smell) all of these folks who are my neighbors, and we were all behaving in a way that allowed everyone to be themselves while also part of a larger group — the way the founders wanted this place we call home to be — I liked the vibe it gave me.
It gave me hope in a teeny way. It reminded me that I actually love people. That I want to think that we can all get along. It seemed possible right then.
I know there are hideously complex and truly terrible things happening, causing fiery outrage and painful rifts. I’m damn sure everyone on the river didn’t share all the same priorities or beliefs, and I know it’s a over-simplistic fantasy to imagine we all had that Kumbaya sense of things in that moment. I’m not trying to look away from all of that or presume that a fix is easy or coming soon. But if we can all enjoy a summer day together, maybe there is a small lesson in there somewhere?
Maybe I’m just desperate to think we can coexist as long as we each have a little piece of shoreline to stand on.