On Fireworks and Freedom

I admit it. I get a kick out of big fireworks shows. I enjoy sitting in lawn chairs on a grassy verge and chatting with friends until the show starts, drinking beverages. The way the balmy night air feels, the happiness of a cooling breeze as it turns full night.  I enjoy the rising anticipation until the first rocket takes off and those microseconds of hangtime before it explodes into a thousand prismed stars. The way my chest concaves with every blast, and how my jaw drops as the shells continue to ignite, each display more beautiful than the last, and my vocabulary is reduced to one word: “Wow”.  Hearing the spontaneous laughter and applause and gasps of wonder from the people around me.  Being imbued with a feeling of being part of something bigger than me when participating in a joyful, sparkling celebration of America’s creation. 

For the past 10 years our family has thoroughly enjoyed Pepsi’s fireworks display up at Science Hill High in Johnson City, TN.  We lived close enough to walk to it and always saw folks we knew from the neighborhood.  Our friends would have a pool party and potluck ahead of the show. Those lazy afternoons winding into deep evening are quintessential summertime memories – kicking back with our swim parent friends as our boys and our “other sons” splashed and laughed, being big goofballs in the pool and deck until the show started. The fireworks in that tiny town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee are fantastic, and I am so grateful for those memories. Honestly, the display regularly beat out what Disneyland does, and that’s saying something. 

This year we were in Addison, Texas with new friends.  We grilled out at their house, and walked a mile or so with our lawn chairs to the edge of the airfield where the fireworks were to be ignited.  Ahead of the fireworks, there was an acrobatic air show. As I watched a variety of planes doing dives and swoops and climbs, I started thinking of the real reason that kind of flying came to be – to avoid being shot down in wartime.  To avoid the other fighter planes gunning for you, and drop your payload of death and destruction on a town below.  It was a sobering thought, and an odd one, juxtaposed with the laughing kids with glow sticks running around our deck chairs, not even paying attention to the tricky flying just overhead. Bombers make me think about my Mom’s war.  She lived through the Blitz in London in WWII.  She said when the air raid sirens went off, you ran to the back yard to the underground bunker. Even underground, you could hear the building rumble of bombers on approach, and the buzzing of the bombs as they dropped. You didn’t want the sound of the buzzing to stop, because the silence meant the bomb had reached its exploding point, and the likelihood that it would fall on your house and you at that point was high. 

It got me thinking about what we celebrate on the 4th of July with our pool parties and wearing of red white and blue. That high blood cost over 200 years ago in the name of Freedom. That same Freedom which has continued to demand a sacrificial portion of our fathers and uncles and mothers and daughters and sons through the intervening years. The Freedom that gives the rest of us the carefree space to sit in shorts and sandals with sparkling lemonade in hand and critique current affairs without fear that we will be named dissident and be thrown in jail. It’s remarkable, and I’m so profoundly grateful. I wonder if I have the requisite courage needed if my boys are called to do their duty to defend that freedom in these years ahead.  My sons are currently in the age group that is called up first if the draft is reinstated.  I learned about it when they filled in the mandatory paperwork boys must fill out when they hit the age of 18 for the “Selective Service”.   

On this 4th of July as the show began, and we were bathed in the first moments of “the rocket’s red glare”, I was deeply grateful for the freedom I so cavalierly enjoy most of the time.  Part of me enjoyed the show but another part of me was weighted by concern about the current political climate. I feel that our freedoms are in jeopardy these days from a lack of moral vision. More people seem to aggressively cling to “their” ideas, rather than conversing and reaching a thoughtful consensus.  Civil discourse seems to be on the endangered list, while “alternative facts” and news blackouts are ever more common. It feels to me that our once-great country is slipping through our fingers, usurped by rude and selfish men who have no care for the rest of us. I don’t want to believe the Barbarians have indeed stormed the gates and are in our dearly bought castle but I am faced with evidence daily that is indeed the case.

The Addison fireworks show is ranked in the top ten in the Nation and it lived up to its ranking. As gorgeous fountains of sparkling light cascaded across the sky, I was pulled out of these melancholy thoughts. The cascade of sound and the ephemeral lightning-in-a-bottle beauty created by gunpowder and the artists who created the show deposited wonder in me again.  After it was done, and we walked back to our car with the reportedly half-million other spectators, I became grateful all over again.  The crowd was comprised of all kinds of people — young, old, races, creeds, colors – and all of us had been transported for that half hour in a jubilation of color and sound, and here we were walking peacefully, together.  And free. Free to think, to write, to ponder and to take action to make things better again.  Thank you to all the men and women in uniform today and in all our yesterdays, I am so very grateful for what we have been given.

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