Watching fireballs in the sky

Tuesday evening, July 3, Wilmette, IL

The stage was set for a memorable evening. The weather was warm, but tolerable after an uncomfortably muggy day. A full moon hung low in the sky, as if to add extra illumination for the proceedings to come. And the majestic Baha’i Temple–the closest thing the North Shore has to a tall building–reached upward into the sky, just as it always does.

The Fourth of July holiday was to follow in a few hours, but the fireworks were scheduled for Independence Eve. I once spent the Fourth of July in transit from Atlanta to Chicago, listening to a biography of John Adams on tape. In the process, I learned that the Declaration of Independence was actually approved on July 2, 1776, and Adams thought that would be the day to be celebrated in the years to come. But July 4th became that day instead, so tonight’s festivities were either a day late, or a day early, depending on what view you take.

My daughters and I found a place on the grass to view the fireworks display. A large crowd had come out, and with it was an air of anticipation. Everyone loves a good fireworks show.

The drought that has been going on this summer has caused many places to cancel their fireworks shows this year, since the risk of a burning ember falling on dry grass is just too great. And the huge fire in Colorado Springs, along with a fire burning in South Dakota, remind us of what the stakes actually are. But still, a Fourth of July without fireworks must feel very strange.

And another huge swath of the country is still without power, days after a recent storm. I suppose you can still have fireworks in a situation like that, but people in the crowd at those displays would surely have other things on their mind, like when is the power coming back on? Those kind of distractions are fortunately missing from this part of the world.

As the show began, and my daughters and I were enjoying the sights and the sounds, I began to hear, strictly inside my own head, a Jimmy Buffett song called The Night I Painted the Sky. One of my daughters was sitting on my lap, while the other tried in vain to capture the bursts with her camera. As I watched them–both the fireworks and my daughters– I counted myself as a very lucky man.

The show was most impressive, and a hearty round of applause went up after the grand finale had come to a halt. We then walked back to our car, telling each other the unfunniest jokes we could think of. And as were driving home, I realized that the 4th of July has already been a success, a few hours before it even officially began. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy 4th of July holiday, for 2012 and every year after that.

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