Pops and bangs awaken me from sweet dreams and I startle upright in my bed. It takes a few moments for me to get my bearings, and a peek through my window blinds, to realize it’s just the neighbor boys shooting off random firecrackers…again. It’s the Fourth of July for only another few minutes, but the city fireworks and suburban celebrations have been long over. I contemplate whether or not to drive over to confront the boys’ parents in my PJs. Most assuredly the whole neighborhood is now awake too, collectively rolling their eyes or throwing pillows over their heads. Instead, I let out an explicative, turn on my white noise machine, plug my ears with pink foam, and attempt to recreate sleep.
That was last year.
No, I don’t mind fireworks, crackers, or sparklers. I actually have a particular fondness for the day of celebration for our country’s independence — although my DNA ancestry and obsession with BBC dramas and monarch royalty make me seriously question how far from the “home country” I would have gone if I were asked to sail across the ocean in the Mayflower convoy with my great, great, great, great, great relative. You see, “The Fourth” is one of my favorite days of the year; it is my grandfather’s birthday.
Although Pops is gone now, I still carry loving memories of Kansas farm fireworks each summer: vats of homemade ice cream, my uncle and cousins by the side of the dirt road, lighting rockets with the rest of us safely set on the front porch (telling tales of “whirling dervishes” chasing Pops around the yard when my dad was a boy), the “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” over color bursts breaking the star-filled sky with loud power booms and crackles, and Pops’ cake presented with layers of sparkling sticks for candles.
But as I get older, I have less tolerance for being awakened by loud “bangs”. It’s a reminder that we don’t live in an era anymore where an innocent firecracker is the first thought that goes through your mind in the middle of the night – instead of the concern it could be a shot from a firearm. I admit I live in an affluent, privileged, suburban community, where gunshots are a rarity and usually make the news only if a child accidently shot himself, or friend, with a collector’s gun that wasn’t locked away properly. But, my husband is an urban church pastor in a neighborhood where “drive-bys”, and senseless killings have become more frequent in the recent years – sadly, multiple times in the past couple weeks. In that neighborhood, the sound of pops and bangs piercing the day and night don’t symbolize celebration, instead they usually bring sorrow, anger and disbelief.
Our country can revel in its independence during the first week of July, shoot off brilliant displays to brighten the dark sky, but we must also acknowledge the bondage fear still has on us. Our schools don’t feel safe. Our streets don’t feel safe. Police are feared, and we can’t seem to decide who gets to have a gun and who doesn’t.
So this year, on July 4th, in addition to reliving blessed memories of innocent fun in the fields where Dorothy and Toto played, during the neighbor boys’ midnight mischief, I will also be thinking of the families in my hometown for whom the sounds of firecrackers will cause them to grab hold of their children and hide under beds. I will pray that this is the year we grow up as a country, no longer a teenager asserting independence from kings across the seas, and finally make “good choices” (as I raised my kids to do) to keep ourselves safe. I will hope for a day when firecrackers will be the only night noises we all hear piercing in the sky, and we awaken without fear to give thanks.