Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Grinch of the 4th

I'm really not a grinch. I actually think fireworks are lovely. The trouble is, I don't think large mortar shell fireworks are lovely right next door well into the night. I think the individual crazy fireworks all the live long night are indicative of other perils facing communities, that is a lack of community mindedness.

I remember growing up in a small town, I loved going to the fireworks extravaganza on the 4th of July. The daughter of immigrants, it was always very special to my family and important to pay honor to the freedom that the United States embodied. We would go early, find a place on the lawn of the Veteran's Home, which is where the display was held quite appropriately, and nibble on treats until dusk. Then it began. The music, the pomp, the circumstance. Kids would cry, but you knew that going in since, well, you were going to the fireworks.

Back home, perhaps you fiddled around with some sparklers or even toyed with slightly more intricate fireworks, but there were no hour long events, no disturbances into the night. We were neighborhoods of families that knew and respected that once the festivities were over, life resumed in quiet motion into the night. Any disturbances were out of the ordinary.

Maybe that is just the small town Iowa girl talking. I feel like we have lost that sense of community. All our little villages here in the metro have community fireworks. We don't go because the kids are too little I think for that kind of noise and late night hour, but they are there. They are everywhere. Why, then, it is necessary to stage individual fireworks shows in tight neighborhoods that last hours during and after? I just don't understand. There are children sleeping, people who have to get up early for work, animals frightened, elderly disturbed, and I would assume handfuls of refugees (in our area anyway) who start at the sounds of the rockets red glare. Yet, it seems the lure of pyrotechnics glows too brightly to consider the others in our midst.

This really isn't limited to fireworks. How many of us now live in neighborhoods that come out of their homes to gather together? Growing up, I remember knowing every family on our street. I don't think I know two families on our block now, though part of that fault is certainly ours. We get wrapped up in life, in our life, in our friends and families and don't make the effort to know our neighbors. Would that perhaps make a difference? 

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." G.K. Chesterton

We live in a society that is all about "my rights" and getting what we can get. This is an indictment on me as much as the next person - what about living in a way where we focus on giving all we can give? What would change if  we considered first the needs of our neighbors (literal and figurative) before deciding to act in ways that impact more than just ourselves (which is truly almost everything)? What would the roads look like? Stores? Neighborhoods? Workplaces? Would real community life spring up again? I know there is a thirst among young families for this - I hear it all the time among our friends. If we all lived in the same neighborhood we'd be set, but we don't. We want and need people geographically close to us to be close community as much as we love those with whom we are connected throughout the area.

I don't have a lot of answers, other than to take the first step ourselves. I'm not sure if getting to know our neighbors would cut down on the pyrotechnic mania that surrounds our holidays. I just pray for rain these days. I do feel as though something has got to give, though, before we all end up in fisticuffs over whose right to do as they please trumps the other's. We really need to have a conversation about liberty versus license and civic responsibility among the populace. Not everything is a right. Some things are privileges and others fringe benefits. The common good should always reign supreme, though we now are in dire disagreement about what the common good is. Not everything that makes us "happy" is good. Not all things that are for the common good will make us happy because living in community requires sacrifice.

However, as I still sit among the bursts of fireworks, I contend that I should not have to sacrifice my sanity or the peace of our home with children and animals for your ability to blast off explosives in our neighborhood. And as Gigi knows, Queen Mama is always right. ;)

Happy 4th of July to one and all! May we continue to be nation that honors the tradition of respectful discourse among competing ideologies and ideas, and not one where the majority coerces silence from those with unpopular views. May the Lord keep us and protect us, and guide us in the way of peace and Truth.