I had been thinking about what I might write on this Fourth of July – the most unsettled and concerning one I can recall. America. It is beautiful, and it is ugly. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. It is loud, it is soft, but what it can never be is silent.

My approach changed as I Zoom’d into the UUCC service, hosted by my wife Jan and populated with personal recollections and perspectives from several fellow congregants. I listened as different speakers shared their American experiences through profoundly personal memories.

I am going to take a bit of personal privilege and share some of Jan’s words. I will also take this opportunity to share the unseen hours of writing, researching, and practicing as she put together her contribution to the music of the service. She thoughtfully combined Lou Stein’s complex and compelling jazz arrangement of “America” with Paul Simon’s poignant musical story of the same name. Two very different styles and visions, brought together to underscore the theme of the gathering perfectly.

In her talk, Jan shared a bit about her family history in America.

“When I was growing up, someone in my family started the rumor that we were directly related to Thomas Paine. I have since learned Tom Paine had no children that survived past infancy, so if we were related, it had to be remotely. I do, however, really have a Grandpaw Paine.

I want to believe my roots hail back to the great man, Tom Paine, the writer of Common Sense, the rabble-rouser who inspired people to embrace the Rights of Man. I want to believe that my heritage is that of a people who demanded a more perfect union. I derive that heritage, or at least the imagining of it, from my mother’s side.

My father’s was a completely different story. He came to the United States at six months old from Sicily, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, joined the army in the prequel to WWII, fought at Normandy, Ardennes, and the Rhineland.

That’s why I consider myself the quintessential American citizen. First-generation on one side and probably seventh or eighth or more on the other. What could be more American?”


It was her poem, read towards the end of the service, that expressed her American heart.

The Last Rocket’s Red Glare                by Jan Callner  July 4, 2021

There was something

rare – possibly unattainable,

perhaps unsustainable.

Hamilton, Franklin, Adams,

Jefferson, Washington, Paine.

They knew it.

At Fort Sumpter we knew it.

At Gettysburg we knew it.

At Meuse-Argonne and

at Normandy we knew it.

Our vision blurred

with Viet Nam,

the Gulf War,

on 9/11,

and with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan.

Where are they now,

the Jeffersons, the Adamses,

and, yes, the Lincolns?

Cooler, calmer minds

exist… listen now for

their voices.

For these are the times that try men’s souls.

Trying times,

Don’t be fooled

by the survival, not of the fittest,

but of the brashest.

Of those who follow the bray,

absorb the molecular barrage of insidiousness.

And what of the people who 

arrive from everywhere,

to seek refuge,

a better life?

What will they find

in this land of the free?

The rocket’s last glare?

Lincoln called us America,

The last best hope of earth.

Those ignorant of our struggles and successes,

see what they want to see.

Only hear the loudest voice

as it blares

from myriad digital sources.

Quiet the noise.

Listen to the universe.

It speaks

in a soundless voice

to be divined

if we are to hear the silence

of bombs