We went to the fireworks last night, since what else do you do on Independence Day but watch things blow up?
The Fourth of July fireworks are one of those great traditions that don’t make a whole lot of sense if you think too hard about them but are lots of fun anyway. And Our Little Town has a nice display for a town this size, though a rather smaller one than in years past due to the Current Economic Unpleasantness, which hits a blue-collar manufacturing town a bit harder than most places. They’ve moved the display back to its traditional spot in the middle of town after a two-year hiatus over on the east side. I like it there, since it is much more convenient for me personally, though I still wonder what the cardiac patients in the hospital think when the rockets start exploding over their ward.
Fireworks have an almost hypnotic ability to bring people together who might otherwise not have much to do with each other. You plunk your chair down and ooh and ahh, and you feel part of the larger community.
Perhaps that’s a good enough reason to have them on Independence Day – to remind us that we are one nation after all, and that if we don’t remember that we are doomed to fail. There is nothing self-evidently necessary about the United States of America. We don’t have to be here. It took a lot of effort to bring this country into being, and it takes just as much effort to keep it going.
When I was a kid I used to take part in the local parade. It was organized by the same fire company that my dad belonged to and that I would eventually join, so I got to see it from both sides. It was a lot of work. There were marchers. There were floats, which were mostly wagons pulled by bicycles or parents – when I was about 4 or so a bunch of the parents on my block got together and dolled up our wagons as railroad cars for the parade, which was a trick in an area as hilly as ours. There were also bikes, which is where I tended to be most years, red, white and blue crepe paper streaming from my handlebars and woven between my spokes. Between each group were fire engines, and when I was older I was one of the guys in the dress uniforms trying to keep order. The bicycles were the worst, always jostling and shoving. Karma’s rough sometimes.
“Nothing worthwhile happens on its own,” my dad would say around parade time. So the work went in – decorating whatever I was riding, or policing the kids who did that after I got older.
It’s hard work keeping a country going. And you can’t be distracted by bright lights in the sky. I was still in Philadelphia during the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, so I went down to the river for the fireworks extravaganza. I was in the middle of the crowd when the show started. It was an amazing show.
“That’s what it’s all about!” cheered some guys from behind me.
And at that point an older lady – probably about 65 or so, I’m guessing – turned around and glared at them. “That’s not what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s about standing here and being brave. Smoke your pot, drink your booze, and doing what you want to do.”
Don’t get distracted by the shiny lights. Work for what you believe in, and remember it’s a big country with a lot of room for differences but only one country after all. It doesn’t have to be here, and it would be a tragedy if it went away.