The fireworks started before the the sun had set. The sky still tinged with violent orange and pink streaks, roman candles began lighting up, their bangs shaking the house and making the dogs bark. After playing “HI” and earning eleven points in Scrabble, thus securing my spot in second place, I wandered down to the landing and stood amongst a small crowd of people at the top of the steps, watching the amateur displays up and down the beach.
When I was younger, people set off the type of fireworks that come in a paper cylinder with flashy lettering that shoots colored sparks several feet into the air. They make a lot of noise, last a while, and don’t attract the attention of the police, but they aren’t exactly impressive. So somewhere in between the time when I was fourteen and now, the police started turning a blind eye to fireworks displays on our beach, and the displays have gotten much, much better. The things that they’re setting off are just as good as the town’s display. It’s just a steady stream of the big fireworks that go shooting up way into the air, making a flinch-worthy bang, and send colors flying through the air in pretty designs.
As soon as one family started their seemingly endless display, someone else further down the beach would start theirs, and my head began to swivel back and forth between the nearby competing displays. Soon we began to be able to see the fireworks set off way off shore on one of the islands. I wondered if they could also see ours and the cacophony of colorful explosions stretching on for over a mile on our beach. It was almost like the way that you can look at the moon or the stars and while you can’t see all of the billions of other people who can looking at them too, you are still connected in your admiration.
The steady breeze blew the smoke inland, and when we took a break to go get ice cream, the town looked covered in fog. As we hurried back to the beach with dripping cones, I thought about how American I felt right then. We had had the flag flying outside of our house, fireworks were exploding like the rockets and bombs we sing about in the national anthem, the orchestra from the city’s Fourth of July celebration was playing patriotic music on the TV, and for once I wasn’t muttering about how as much as I find the military to be an essential part of our government, we spend way too much money on defense and get involved in far too many international conflicts that we don’t have any business getting into in the first place.
I don’t like feeling patriotic very much–I mostly to hold it in for international sporting events–because of the way that it tends to lead to exceptionalism being perverted into jingoism. But I figure once a year for a few hours on Independence Day can’t hurt. Being an American means being a part of a community dedicated to rule of law, democracy, and inalienable rights, and while we don’t always go about in the right manner and we are quite far from perfect, Independence Day still deserves to be celebrated in a reasonable, restrained, and respectful manner. Happy 235th, America!