“it ought to be…commemorated with….illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” (john adams on the celebration of the declaration of independence)
they had fireworks at the walt whitman mall on route 110 in huntington. sometimes we’d go. we’d park in the parking lot and watch fireworks overhead, my dad quietly admiring them, my mom zealously gleeful. those times we left the charcoal grill, hot dogs, hamburgers, beans and chips behind, i loved anytime we went – a child who was innocently proud of my country.
they had fireworks over the lake. we’d go every year. we’d walk over to the rocks and, climbing up and over the top, we’d sit on a flat-top boulder, mosquito-repellent in the air, and watch. in later years, people would set off firecrackers right near us and that was frightening as a parent with small children. but i loved anytime we went – an adult in the middle of early parenthood who was mostly proud of my country.
for years now they had moved the fireworks that had been set off on one of the beaches to a spot down by the harbor, set off by the public museum. we used to walk down with our blanket or chairs-in-a-bag, oohing and ahhing over a fancy display that belied the size of our city, but something stopped us the last few years. it was palpable, the dismay. red took on different meanings, especially in hatwear. the pride of being-an-american was tarnished with the behavior of a new president who gloried in obnoxious, toxic-talk, whose example was nothing shy of injurious, who touted his own self-serving agendas. we didn’t go to the fireworks.
last year they had fireworks at the ballfield on island. we were days-new there and attended a barbecue late afternoon and in twilight hours, but we knew that dogdog and babycat, both getting used to the littlehouse, would be fearful of the loud booms in this place we didn’t yet know, so we didn’t attend. we heard they were beautiful, but we didn’t miss going.
this year they didn’t have fireworks. the city cancelled them because there is a global pandemic. but people gathered nonetheless and the sounds that mimicked the soundtrack of a warzone went on for hours into the wee night. two yards over, the neighbor had m80s and a giant illuminating-the-skies display. next door, the neighbors set off fireworks lower to the ground, while clapping their hands to the loud and raucous displays in the sky around us.
we had seen footage of the fireworks over mount rushmore the day before. we had seen footage of the hate-speech given on a day of supposed-celebration for our country, but instead filled with chasm-digging language, filled with loathing and disdain, filled with the narcissistic viewpoint of a self-indulgent small unkind man whose anger granted him a job where the hatred others feel toward humankind is given a voice, is given power, is, sickeningly, given control. yes. footage of the fireworks and the pomp and circumstance in south dakota. a new definition of the word “patriotism”. embarrassing on a global scale.
we sat on the deck just a bit, but the thick fog of smoke made it impossible to breathe. the many-families-of-children in the yard out back were screaming loudly and it made me think of earlier years, more innocent years, years when social distancing wasn’t a thing (although it’s hardly a thing now), years when we weren’t advised by intelligent medical staff to wear masks in public (again, hardly a thing). it made me think of times i could point to the president of the united states and speak of him (no pronoun neutrality for there is not yet a “her”) to my young children, without disgust, without the rising nausea that results from listening to hate-talk, without explaining why he’s lied thousands and thousands of times to this country, without the intentional explicitly divisive vitriol coming from some sad place in his soul. we went back inside the house and reassured dogdog and babycat. we just could not attend, physically or emotionally. what is there to be proud of?
i wonder whenever and wherever there will be organized fireworks nearby again. the fireworks that encourage love of country. the fireworks that make you have goose bumps of excitement and a sense of pride. fireworks that remind us of the uniting of all people. fireworks that speak to liberty and justice for all. fireworks that are a recognition of “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
the explicitly divisive rhetoric spewed from the top down is suffocating us and is no salve for the wounds, new or old, that have been imparted on this country’s populace.
we will need to mend ourselves.
and maybe then – fireworks.