My basic feelings about the Fourth of the July holiday are unchanged from last year. I read two things that moved me yesterday, however: one by a recent immigrant, written with reference to his son, and the other a quote by the late American humorist Erma Bombeck: “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
I fear I lack the poetic gifts to write effectively about fireworks. Something about them is so ineluctably fleeting that I feel a bit silly, talking about the excitement I feel watching the light particles rush on the curves that lead to their endpoints, when a second later, they reach them, the sparkling light is gone, and nothing but smoke hangs in the air. As if the night sky burst with excitement only to leave nothing for me to think about except — nothing. By the time I have the words to describe the effect, the effect has disappeared. For the spectator, it all forbids overthought.
Last year I cooked the typical Midwestern U.S. Fourth of July picnic fare, and we watched the township display from our backyard with my brother’s family. This year, my mother ate prune juice, pureed tomato soup, skim milk, and raspberry sherbet, I ate nothing because I missed the cafeteria closing time, and my father is not allowed to drive after dark, so he went home and the church ladies fed him. Mom and I had the best seats for a display that we’ve ever had — the park where the fireworks are shown in this city is about 200 m as the crow flies from her hospital room. So we sat at the window (after unhooking and rehooking IV, oxygen, catheter, analgesic, and pulse ox, plus the electricity that runs the monitor) in 70 degree temperatures, in comfortable chairs, with no mosquitoes, the sixth floor the perfect height for looking over the trees. First came a promenade of boats lit up for the holiday, and then the fireworks. The floor was almost empty, too, as no surgeries were scheduled yesterday, so it felt like someone, somewhere, was shooting rockets just for us. The window was small, so I pushed my mother toward it and then sat behind her with my chin propped on her shoulder.
It was a strange sort of gift but one we needed, forty-five minutes of instantaneity, in sharp contrast to yet another day of watching urine drip into a reservoir and wondering what would happen if it didn’t drip faster, painting out all sorts of dire futures that no one was talking about. As each shell catapulted to the top of its arc, exploded, stunned our eyes, fell, and disappeared, we had nothing to do but react — the event was there, and then gone, gone as fast as if it had never been, with no future at all to think about.
When it was over, I unhooked the rehooking and then rehooked it again to the bed after she moved there. We prayed the evening prayer — for into your hands I commend myself, body and soul, and all things — and Nurse Kevin came to do evening vitals and give a sleeping pill. His hands were very gentle.