Click play for a soundtrack to this post: Stars and Stripes Forever
Happy March 4th!
I like to say to my office colleagues on the 4th of March, “Today is my favorite day of the year.” Invariably they ask why. “Guess,” I say. “Is it your anniversary? Birthday,” they venture? I can’t remember anyone guessing it. Few people hear the date as I do, at least at first. Finally I explain that March 4 is the only day of the year that makes a sentence. Another pause. A furrowed brow. “A sentence,” they puzzle? “What do you mean?” Finally the punchline, stating what for me is the obvious: “March Fourth! Get it? March Forth! It’s a day for bold and decisive action.” Then the eye rolling, sometimes a laugh, and sometimes a funny look that sort of says, “Sheesh, brother, you’re a strange one.”
Maybe I am. Maybe I wish more of us were.
I can’t remember when I started commemorating this day. It’s been a long time ago when our children were still little. For many years, the extent of our celebration involved wishing each other a Happy March Fourth, then playing Sousa marches and marching around the house. It sounds absurd and odd, but we laughed and had fun doing it. My wife, ever dear, ever supportive, still laughs at the word play. In later years as our children grew to young adulthood, they all took it seriously, at least to the point of remembering it, asking to hear the marches, wishing me a happy March 4th.
From 1798 to 1933, American Presidents were inaugurated on March 4. I couldn’t believe it when I learned that. It fit my idea for a holiday perfectly. Did anyone in all those years, particularly the presidents-elect themselves, think about the inherent word-play of the date and equate it with the awesome task each was taking on? Did Abraham Lincoln, a wordsmith himself, feel the weight of the pun that started his tumultuous presidency? In the early days of this Republic before interstates and cars, it took time to move from point A to B and also to close out an old and set up a new presidency. Thus the March 4 inauguration date, four months after the election. The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established January 20 as Inauguration Day, a good move for our governance, but a loss of a great word play that nicely suited the moment.
Last year, I wrote our children and their mates (they are all married) a March 4 Missive. I’m going to do that again this year. I’ve actually been thinking of hosting a March 4th party or dinner next year. Maybe I’ll even send out March 4th cards. Why not? I think everyone could use a reminder every now and then to trust themselves and step out boldly to do or try something new, something exciting, something that may even be world-changing. Human society has been changed and carried along by people who boldly marched forth, not caring about the consequences or derision from others.
Noah must have really looked the fool, building a huge boat in the desert. He was an early Forth Marcher. Saints, holy men and women of God, were often ridiculed for their lifestyles of selfless service, piety, and faith, marching forth according to what they knew God was calling them to. Moral leaders like Ghandi and King marched forth to make tax-free salt on the seashore or to walk from Selma to Montgomery to win the vote, both to win freedom for their oppressed peoples.
Today is the day to act on your convictions, to set out on a path that may seem foolish, that may lead to ridicule, but that you know is the right and good thing to do. Maybe it will be the day you start doing a good work you’ve always wanted to do: help in a homeless shelter, volunteer at a nursing home, participate in an after school program for disadvantaged children. Maybe it’s the day to apply for the job you’ve always wanted or quit the one that’s slowly killing you. Could March 4th be the day you finally pop the question? Or say yes after it gets popped? Maybe it’s the day to start your own blog.
One more point: You can make this into a literary event as well. Invite people over for a nice meal. Sing a song. Read a poem. Go around the table and share with your fellow Marchers what you’re going to do, big or small, that will be your way to march forth. Wouldn’t it be a grand joke worth a hearty belly-laugh if this caught on? Imagine a holiday based on a goofy pun that leads people to act, to serve, to boldly do what they’ve maybe always wanted to do but just needed the right moment. Or the right word play!