Monday, July 4, 2011

A Fascinating Fourth

Tonight I was driving home at dusk with a belly full of BBQ ribs to my temporary home of small town America on the fourth of July.

I had seen online that the local fairgrounds would be setting off fireworks at 9:30 p.m.; and I, never carrying cash, was seeking an ATM where I could make a withdrawal for the fee at the gate to get in.

I pulled off the highway in my town, the sun gone and just a faint orange glow breaking through the incredibly tall pine trees, when I noticed that along the embankm
ent, a thick entanglement of tall grass, were a conglomeration of cars and lawn chairs - in the middle of virtually nowhere. I pulled off to the side of the highway, the one open spot, and looked around. Pick-up trucks with lawn chairs in the beds, SUVS, Miatas, dune buggies, motorcycles and more were the boulders among the pebbles of families gathered on picnic blankets, staring at the burnt-orange sky in anticipation. Despite all the warnings this past week fr
om locals that the dry season wouldn't allow fireworks, had I found somewhere where my 4th of July tradition
could be fulfilled?

I said I love you and goodnight to my girlfriend on the other end of the cell phone, and turned the car off. Dawning my fleece, a jug of sweet tea, my camera, and my camping chair out of my trunk (as I'm partially living out of my car these days), I found a soft spot in the grass with an
open view, and got comfortable.

Right on time at 9:30 p.m., the first firework illuminated the sky from
some distant spot deep within the massive pine forest, and lit up the faces of the 60 or so spectators around me, all huddled on the edge of the freeway. Now i'm a big city boy, and used to spectacular fireworks displays, with thousands of people cheering, and rock music blaring from cars and speakers from stages in sync with the music. But here, the fireworks came from one spot and there was not a sound but the voices of the families around me. It was incredibly quiet, save for the echo of the
boom of the fireworks, and the only sounds were the whispered voices around me. I sat and watched the simple, one-rocket-at-a-time fireworks, and listened to the soundtrack of my temporary community of teenagers, families, and grandparents:

  • "Sparkle like a princesses tiara!"
  • "That's my favorite!"
  • "They do one of these every night at Disneyland?"
  • "Sounds like a bug zapper.....or hands clapping."
  • "It's so fluffy!"
  • Someone softly singing "baby you're a firework"
  • "I love you Brad Pitt!"
  • A VERY young child, defiantly, "I know what puss means!" followed by adult laughter

There was something so human, so communal, of not having a thundering show with blasting fireworks -able to hear every oooo and ahhhh, every conversation, excitement, or disappointment (when a rocket fizzled out). But it made me grin probably wider than any
fireworks show I've ever watched. Instead of being in awe of the wonder of fire and powder, I felt home, gravitated, centered, balanced, comfortable, safe and warm, hearing the earnest thoughts of the crowd and the wind through the trees. It was peaceful, an incredibly humanizing event - not some out-of-body experience where you're lost in the wonder of the glow and thunder; but a very real event, where I was completely conscious of the people and stories around me - and how pleasant, kind, and happy everyone was. It was a family holiday.

It's not a new or revolutionary thought, but it's one that's worth being reminded of: when we turn all the noise and clutter and distortion off in our lives, we can once again become centered and feel truly at peace with our community.