Thinking of Home on Independence Day

In Belfast, the Fourth of July is … Tuesday. Just a Tuesday.

No fireworks. No smoked or grilled meat on the Big Green Egg. No bonfires (those happen next Tuesday when, thankfully, we’ll be in Portugal). Marilynn and I worked today after spending the weekend in Derry in the north and County Donegal in the Republic.

But that doesn’t mean that Declan and I didn’t get into the Independence Day spirit here in Belfast—albeit a couple of weeks early. Marilynn was at a conference in Scotland, but Declan and I attended the Independence Day celebration at the US Consulate General’s residence with about 500 other mainly Irish people and a smattering of Americans on June 23.

Even though it’s not a holiday here, Irish schools let out on June 30, so everyone goes on holiday right after, making a celebration on the actual day impractical. It was more networking than celebration, anyway, so think suits and ties rather than ballcaps and shorts.

Old friends and new

Declan and I immediately ran into author David Park and his wife, Alberta, who were talking to one of David’s former students and his American fiancée. The Parks have hosted us for dinner at their home in County Down, and we reciprocated with brunch on a spring Saturday. David attended Marilynn’s talk on “Hopdance,” and we all attended his reading at No Alibis promoting the paperback edition of his short story collection “Gods & Angels.”

Declan then wolfed down a hamburger and made a beeline to the back yard of the residence, where he played basketball with the consul general’s kids. With a growing thirst, I passed the Guinness booth in search of my new favorite Irish beer, Yardsman, brewed in Belfast by Hercules Brewing. I had seen a Yardsman glass and was determined to have a pint. Their booth was located in a corner of the yard.

Life, liberty, healthcare

Joining the queue, I overheard a few people on the side talking about healthcare. I joined that conversation, hoping to meet fellow Americans talking about Trump’s effort to undo the Affordable Care Act. Most were non-American officials from the Belfast Titans, the local ice hockey team whose mascot is Finn McCool, the mythical giant who created Giant’s Causeway. One, a former player who played in seven countries (including for the Gwinnett Gladiators in the north Atlanta ‘burbs), relayed the story of an American friend hit by high medical bills when his insurance ran out.

Say what you will about the National Health Service, but no one is turned away. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are codified in the preamble of the US Constitution. But how can one have those things without health insurance? I posit that healthcare is a fundamental right and firmly believe that everyone should be covered.

So on this day of celebration, think about our country and how we treat the least among us. Is it with respect or with contempt? Then think about our country’s place in the wider world and Americans living outside the US, because we certainly are thinking about you on this day of independence.

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