"Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better."
Today we Americans celebrate our nation’s birthday—236th to be exact. It has held up well for its age. There will be community parades, family gatherings, fireworks—the whole nine yards. And, it is good that we take the time to celebrate as it should cause us a moment to pause and remember exactly what it is that we are celebrating—freedom.
I think that I am as patriotic as the next person, but I have never really enjoyed celebrating Independence Day. It is too noisy of a holiday for me. Ever since I was a little kid I have had this sort of “love/hate” relationship with July 4th. Primarily because of fireworks. My mother used to tell me that when watching fireworks on the Fourth of July I would have a finger in my ear and one eye closed—apparently I did not like the loud noise and bright flashes. I have out grown that habit—1998 was the last year that I did that. Seems it was embarrassing the family when we were at firework shows. Besides, at age of 40 it was time to start acting like an adult—I got ear plugs and wore dark sunglasses.
I have never understood fireworks. As a kid they scared me as I witnessed their power to destroy things . . . I was always the kid who took to heart those stories of kids blowing up their hands and losing fingers. I didn’t want to lose my hand or any of my fingers and be called “Stubby” for the rest of my life. I just have never understood the fascination in wanting to blow things up. Nor, did I understand people wanting to spend hard earned money on purchasing fireworks—hundreds of dollars-worth of fireworks. To me it was just like taking a match to a hundred dollar bill, lighting it, and watching it burn. I have never received any joy or satisfaction from burning money.
Another story I fully bought into was the one about burning down the neighborhood. I can remember my mother telling me that I could not shoot off fireworks because I might burn down the neighborhood. After listening to some of my parents’ conversations about our neighbors . . . well, I thought burning down the neighborhood might not be too bad of a thing to do. Again, I took this warning to heart. Even to this day, I take that warning to heart. Throughout the years that the kids were growing up and had their opportunities to shoot off fireworks on July 4th, we always kept a bucket of water nearby and the hose turned on. I did not want to be known as the guy who burnt down the neighborhood no matter how much the neighbors might have deserved it. It has always been one of my fears with fireworks . . . catching something on fire . . . burning down the house.
Especially this year. In Montana—and the rest of the western parts of the United States—we are in the worse fire season that anyone can remember. There have been hundreds of thousands of acres of land charred—hundreds of homes and structures burned to the ground—critters dying. The fire index is off the charts. This happens when there has been no moisture, the temperatures go up, humidity drops, and the wind blows—perfect kindling for a fire. Of all the fires that have taken place this year, over 80 percent of them have been caused by humans who were careless –intentionally or unintentionally. Many, but not all, of the counties in Montana have in-acted a fire ban in which open fires and the lighting of fireworks are banned until the fire index drops to a safe level. It is just too easy to start a fire and burn down a couple hundred acres. Despite this ban it hasn’t slowed down a lot of people—the fireworks are still fairly abundant. The argument? What is the Fourth of July without fireworks?
My reply: check out the twenty some fires that have destroyed the land and lives of many Montanans in the past two weeks. It is sad.
But, they are right. It is Independence Day and it should be celebrated. After all, what our nation is celebrating is freedom . . . independence . . . liberty . . . and self-determination. Who cares about anyone else? Go ahead, light that firecracker. It just is not right. It is not right when our celebration does not take into consideration our neighbors and others. It becomes selfish and self-indulgent to put everyone at risk just because “we” can do it. I really don’t think that is making things better for everyone . . . except a few. That has nothing to do with what is behind our celebration of Independence Day. In fact, I think it ignores everything that we are celebrating—especially the idea that we are all for one, one for all. We think about the good for all. Who cares if have the country burns down . . . we are celebrating Independence Day.
I guess if that make me unpatriotic, then so be it. Go ahead and light the fireworks—especially in our neck of Montana where we could easily go up with one little spark—and enjoy the celebration. Nothing might happen, but then again, everything could happen. I will walk down to the town’s parade, stroll around the park, eat a hot dog or two, talk to people, listen to a little music, and bask in the joy of the day with others who celebrate their freedom. It won’t be as loud or flashy as shooting off the fireworks, but I know that tomorrow everything will still be standing. I’ll leave the ear plugs at home, the sunglasses won’t be necessary, and my nerves will be a little less frayed. I think that, too, is patriotic.