Somehow, some way, it survives.
It lives, despite the best efforts of the people we have entrusted to lead us, to divide us.
Despite hardships and inequities as the chasm between haves and have-nots grows wide, it endures.
It survives terrorism and crazed gunmen and misguided fools who would burn or trample their own flag, the flag that gave them freedom to express themselves even when they are wrong. It trumps hate and fear.
It runs deeper - embedded more stubbornly than our differences over race, politics, language, religion, abortion, immigration or gun control.
Our country has been through a lot lately. And on the Fourth of July, somehow it is still there, maybe more so than ever, if the holiday crowds are any indication.
At the Star Spangled Spectacular in Storm Lake, everybody is outfitted in red, white or blue, often all three, clashing magnificently. Small children barely old enough to walk on their own carry around flags, so do immigrants who are brand new to life here. Veterans break out old uniforms. A stunt bike jumper has written "Team America" on his white t-shirt in magic markers. An Asian man leaps to his feet every time the flag passes in the parade, even in the form of a t-shirt - and there are hundreds. Even the dogs are wearing stars and stripes bandanas.
Were some evil power to choose this time and place to attack, they would be sorely disappointed. Young and old, I think, would step up to protect one another and their community.
More than the outward signs of patriotism is the essence of the thing. We are a little quicker to greet each other in passing, we give our smiles a little more freely, and it matters little whether we speak the same language. We are a little more patient and kind, we take a little more time to ask how people have been, even though we haven't seen many since last July 4th.
There is a real, unspoken sense that we are together here. Not Democrats or Republicans, not straight or gay, not immigrant or native-born, not young or old, rich or poor, we are us. In a very deep, inclusive sense, it is what Storm Lake is about.
In a time of instant gratification and technology-driven lifestyles, there is something beautiful about the way we are still drawn out by the prospects of a parade. A clown, a piece of tossed candy, a startling blast of a semi air horn, a lady with a squirt gun, a chance to wave at someone we know - even if we see them every year in the same parade - are simple, forever pleasures. Thank goodness we never seem to have become too jaded, too grown up or too sophisticated to enjoy them.
As I sat on the jetty on a cool Sunday night with a bunch of other people I'd never met until now and may never see again, it occurred to me how special this is. People could Google fireworks or explosions without leaving their home, and pyrotech themselves silly until the cows come home, but no, it has to be experienced, you have to BE there, with other people.
There is something magical about fireworks - you could tear the stuff apart and find the dyes and gunpowder and fuses and such, but the materials in no way can explain the appeal, the magic. I saw people in wheelchairs and on crutches, the very elderly and people managing babies and untamed herds of small children, ladies wobbling alarmingly in the most inexplicable high heels and shorts the size of postage stamps, dads hauling piles of blankets they can barely see over - there is no parking for half a mile around, and it is no easy feat for this mass of humanity to get to this beach on this night, but the looks on faces tell me no one here thinks it isn't worth it.
Music sounds better on the Fourth of July, and I can't explain that either. Weathered old cars become classic cars. People will stand in a line all the way across a park for a turkey leg, or a root beer float in a messy paper cup - in a world in which we usually can't endure a two-minute delay for our fast meal. Food just tastes better on the Fourth of July too.
The day is a celebration of country and history, warriors and familiar declarations, to be sure: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."
But it is also a grand celebration of who we are, what we share, the things we all love and appreciate. A chance to slow down and experience the full, free-wheeling cacophony of sights, smells and sounds around us. Even in their chaos, how American they all are.
Call it old-fashioned and corny if you must to celebrate things like patriotism, freedom and the American melting pot.
If you've been there, you know the truth. There's no place better than here to celebrate what the real America is all about. It is life, and liberty, and it most certainly in the pursuit of happiness.