I find myself thinking this, on the fifth of July, after enduring with fusillade after fusillade of illegal fireworks, and thrum of dance music blaring from several neighbors’ backyard parties, and the thump, thump, thump of basslines permeating every barrier between them and my family until almost midnight last night. (Let’s just say my kids don’t sleep on July 4th.)

What does America mean to me?

It is a promise to do better, to try harder, to fight for justice and freedom, and to stand up again after being knocked down. It is a promise that is very, very hard to keep—one most often observed in its breach.

What has America actually been to me? All this noise around me, for years and years and years, drowning out the voices and the actions of serious, thoughtful people. I am one of the privileged few, but I too am lost and bewildered in my own country, by my own country.

America needs to be better, and for that, Americans need to act better. To start, we must demand better of each other.