‘Live faithfully, fight bravely, and die laughing.’

My ‘hood had been setting off fireworks for like two weeks straight. I raised Kick the first three years of her life across the alley from a crack house, so she was used to loud random bangs and yelling and the occasional 3 a.m. garbage-dump-recliner inferno. Not to mention the night somebody turned said crack house into a drive-thru with his Buick. It gave her an extravagant tolerance for noise. When she’s asleep you can set off a hundred M80s and she won’t even stir.

This was our first 4th in the new house, though, and it was intense.

Last year we were out of town visiting friends for the holiday; the two years before that we declined to keep her up late enough to see the fireworks. This time we crowded into the car and joined the throngs of people at the high school’s football stadium to watch them up close with her.

She was tired. She hadn’t napped. I was tired. I hadn’t napped. I was overheated and Mr. A knew he’d wind up carrying Kick most of the way home on his sore shoulders and neither one of us is crazy about sweaty, unruly crowds. We’d been in a sweaty, unruly crowd that morning at the local parade and were sunburnt. Everyone had been drinking since 9 a.m. so the stadium was rowdy.

The ‘hood’s Facebook groups had been muttering resentfully for several days, as they do before Halloween, about people from “outside our community” coming into “our” neighborhoods and watching “our” fireworks. As if your view is diminished by someone else watching the same thing. As if anyone owns the sky.

The people behind us were from the next town over, asked polite questions about if we did this every year and how long the display would last. Some kids were smoking weed on the stairs. I hadn’t brought enough water nor any cleverly concealed alcohol. Kick shared her animal crackers and she and the stranger behind us debated whether the one she picked out for him was a squirrel, a skunk, or a cat. A few rain drops fell and the tarps went over the field of unlit pyrotechnics.

When the police chief stepped forward with a microphone and said the words “severe weather,” everyone groaned. But then the tarps were lifted off, and a procedure we’ll just call HURRY UP SET THEM ALL OFF NOW BOB DO IT BEFORE IT PISSES DOWN began.

I saw a lot of tweets yesterday excoriating people for celebrating the 4th of July this year, when children are in cages and the courts seem hopeless and November feels too far away, when all legitimate outcomes for our words and work seem lost to us. I saw a lot of this:

And so the anthems play and the flags wave and the bottle rockets ascend and the M-80’s go off—and Fascism quietly enters in the side door while everyone is distracted by the spectacle.

This is the paradox Americans find ourselves in. Our essential liberties have never been more at risk, our national sovereignty never more tenuous, our elemental freedoms never more assailed—and yet the patriotic fervor at the top and in its flag-waving rank-and-file has never been greater.

Yes, the ship is going down quickly but the music is still playing to convince them all we’re still the Land of the Free, and they are dancing wildly into the abyss, waving flags.

I know why everybody felt that way but it’s just not possible, cats and kittens, to live without light. They made art in the trenches in France, carved shotgun shells and missile casings into vases and crosses and lamps. They celebrated Christmas at Bastogne.

Those in bondage sang songs of freedom. Bondage has never once been an argument against singing.

We hold our ideals up because of their defilement, not in spite of them. We hold our promises up not to distract from our deaths but to defy them. We celebrate what we should be, not what we are.

We celebrate all our birthdays, after all, at the beginning of that new year’s life, not the end.

When the local fireworks started, the crowd screamed like we’d just won the World, Stanley and America’s Cups all at once. Sousa marches blared from the speakers. And my tiny, angry, sweaty, exhausted kid turned her face to the sky. 

That morning we’d walked in the parade with a local Democratic group, carrying signs that said things like NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL and ROE V WADE IS THE LAW OF THE LAND and IMMIGRANTS MAKE AMERICA GREAT. Even in the white, wealthy parts of town, people waved and cheered.

Kick colored our sign, that read on one side ALL ARE WELCOME and on the other THERE ARE NO STRANGERS HERE. She helped me carry it. She eagerly collected candy and high-fives and dragged one of her baby-friends off the curb to march along with us.

It was our family’s fourth political action in the past two weeks. It was a two-mile route and it was hot and she was dog-tired.

But as the first explosions bathed her face in light, she lifted both hands over her head and shouted for joy.


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