Sunday, July 3, 2016

Songs of Innocence and Experience on 4 July

I don't know what it is about fireworks that fascinates us so much. On July 4, they are supposed to make us think about winning our independence in a war with the British. Our patriotic songs talk about bombs bursting in mid-air and all that, but that's never what I think of when I'm looking at fireworks.

Just seeing the sky full of umbrellas of light and hearing the "boom" that accompanies them does make me feel awed and excited. If fireworks are supposed to make us think of the soldiers who fought for our freedom and sacrificed their lives, though, I don't know that it does. 

I DO think of those soldiers a lot, especially listening to news reports. I think of the young men and women I see congregated outside of schools or going on prom dates and hope that all they have to see are fireworks in the sky instead of bombs exploding overhead.

But on July 4 (and Memorial Day too) the world seems sleepy, easy and innocent on American soil. Families get together (including mine) to swim, talk, picnic and barbecue. Sometimes I think about how long our innocence can last, and what that innocence can tell us about ourselves.

This makes  me think of Anne Frank's words in her diary: 

"I see the eight of us with our 'Secret Annexe' as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds. The round, clearly defined spot where we stand is still safe, but the clouds gather more closely about us and the circle which separates us from the approaching danger closes more and more tightly. Now we are so surrounded by danger and darkness that we bump against each other, as we search desperately for a means of escape. We all look down below, where people are fighting each other, we look above, where it is quiet and beautiful, and meanwhile we are cut off by the great dark mass, which will not let us go upwards, but which stands before us as an impenetrable wall; it tries to crush us, but cannot do so yet. I can only cry and implore: 'Oh, if only the black circle could recede and open the way for us!'

Does our innocence come from our experience, or does it deny it?

This Fourth of July, many of us will finish our dinners and walk or drive to parks or lakes to gather for fireworks celebrations. Looking up at the sky, we will likely be glad it is summer, and think of this celebration as its heart. Maybe looking at the fireworks will remind some of us about how it is possible to survive the worst of war, and to live full lives afterwards. It will no doubt also remind others of people they lost in war, or of things they continue to struggle with because of it.

When I'm looking up this year, I'm going to pray that people everywhere can look up too, in their homes and gardens, and feel safe there. That the threat of bombs and guns and violence won't reach them or will end so everyone can look up without fear.

Perhaps that is my innocence, willed innocence, forcing it's way through in a rush of American optimism. 

Still my wish.