I've never been much for parades or overt patriotism, but then I went to my first Bristol 4th of July Celebration.
I began my role as editor of the Phoenix in mid-July last year, narrowly missing the opportunity to attend the Fourth of July parade that sets this community apart from any other in the nation.
At the time, I didn’t really understand the big deal.
Parades were never really my thing. I wasn’t a big fan of large crowds even prior to Covid, and aside from the Boston Bruins championship parade in 2011, I can’t recall ever really having a good time at one.
Excessive displays of patriotism have also never been something I was interested in either. I’m grateful to live in this country and I admire its ideals, but I have always been the kind of person who would rather have an honest discussion regarding our nation’s inconsistencies and hypocrisies in doling out those ideals than simply wave a flag and proclaim the inalienable glory of the red, white and blue — as if that proclamation alone would make up for all the readily apparent injustices and flaws within our society.
At the same time, two of my closest friends are overtly proud American military veterans, and have vastly different political views from my own. In fact, I always felt that contrasting dynamic between my more patriotic friends and myself was the perfect summation of what America should be about. Agreeing to disagree and remaining friends, to me, is the American way.
So, when parade time neared again this year and I knew I would be responsible for helping capture the moment for Bristolians, I was a little nervous. America is in the midst of an undeniable societal stress test, and recently has repeatedly fallen short of my own hopes of where it should be heading. What if I didn’t feel all the same bubbly emotions that all of these hard-working volunteers who plan and execute the parade feel? What if my analytical mind clicked one notch too far into cynicism?
But then I actually sat through my first parade. And I get it now.
I started understanding what it was all about on my way in, looking at the thousands of cars parked along every street and side-street within a mile of downtown. I began feeling it as I saw families and friends gathered together along the parade route, sitting in spots they had staked out as early as 3 and 4 a.m. It finally hit home when the first line of police motorcycles got to our spot near Union Street, clearing the route. A Bristol officer stopped his bike, and revved the engine to the delight of the kids nearby. One ran out to him, and he smiled, handing the toddler a roll of Bristol PD stickers as the child squealed with joy.
Although I had seen a few characters utilizing the spectacle as a pulpit for their political views and aspirations, politics never seemed further away than it did sitting along Hope Street, watching scores of smiling, waving people go by wishing everyone well, regardless of who they might vote for. The tension in our country never felt lesser than while watching a man carrying a giant bubble wand humorously exclaim “I AM NOT A MACHINE” when his wand malfunctioned in a dissatisfying splash, resulting in a disappointed groan from the onlookers.
At Bristol’s most historic event, the ideals of America were on full display, under the most perfect summer sky that I could ever imagine. And I did feel proud to live in a country where such an event was not only possible, but celebrated. I felt proud to be working in a community that went to such lengths to produce an event, at no cost to those who would enjoy it, to carry the torch of many generations who had done it before them.
So I get it now, Bristol, and I’m grateful that I do. Moments like Monday are the embodiment of our aspirations as a nation, and it is a moment we should strive to recreate every day of the year.