Today is a day to celebrate.

…But what are we celebrating? I’ve been thinking about that question all week as the flags have come out, the barbecue grill tops scraped off, red white and blue cupcakes to car decals .

My not so famous (yet) cauliflower “potato” salad

This past May I got a unique opportunity to drive across the country on the way home from Boston to LA. As you can imagine, I saw plenty of landscapes and moreover, significantly distinct ways of life from farms to fabulous mansions across the street from national art museums. The trip felt like a giant learning expedition, helping me understand just slightly better what “divided” means in our country. Maybe the one thing each place had in common was that it rained. And fast food. I cannot soften how apparent it is that we are not a unified nation, because that would gloss over so many struggles and injustices I saw right outside the car door window.

Today is a day to celebrate, not despite these struggles, but because of them. Sojourner Truth, a suffragette and influential fighter for women’s rights during and after slavery, once said: “I will not allow the light of my life to be determined by the darkness around me.” Joy is an act of resistance. We all agree on this as we fight for justice, a path often surrounded by strife and mourning and wondering when, how, what.

I was in Las Vegas this past weekend with one of my best friends from USC and her sister. We sat around a shisha pipe (my request) as I fired off life questions. “What is your greatest fear? What are you most proud of? Who is someone you let go of too soon? What is one thing you want to see for yourself in five years?” I don’t remember exactly which question we began discussing, but our parents came up as a subject of both respect and recognition of imperfection. We all confessed that one thing our parents have given us is a safety net: an ability to take risks and even make pretty terrible mistakes without letting us fall completely to our demise. Maybe it’s money, maybe a place to stay, maybe simply a listening ear, but we could not downplay the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents who worked and still work to give us what this country is supposed to provide for everyone: freedom.

Freedom is a big word, and as someone who practices Buddhism most humbly and often in a state of questioning, I think about freedom from suffering as a goal for which to strive. Help to free others from suffering,  free my own mind of craving and desire that causes suffering. Today I firmly believe we are celebrating the people who have risked their own suffering to free others from it. Immigrants who settled here 50 years ago or yesterday to transform their rootedness into the branches for their children and grandchildren. Women who persist, nevertheless. Queer folx who selflessly write and speak and talk to the people around them and the world to educate us, even though that is exhausting and by no means a requirement of them or their bodies. People of color who tear down “normal” behavior, speech, culture, bound up in whiteness. Dreamers, teachers, the friends who gently push us to think about how our words and actions affect everyone around us, sometimes in causing pain. These are the people who take on greater binds of suffering every day, under the star-spangled banner,  believing we can be better.

These are the people who fight to bring joy, making the fight worth it. Today as I am blessed to have dinner with my family around a nourishing meal, I am grateful for the unheard and unseen who work tirelessly without an ounce of recognition except the unflagging hope for all of us.

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