First it frightened us.
Then it inspired us.
Come to think of it, Thursday’s July 4 Birthday Bash was kind of like the last four years here in Rim Country.
We started off worried and grieving. Maybe we shouldn’t go. Could we truly celebrate, with all we have lost? Should we mourn such a tragedy with fireworks? Should we fear the stray spark in a world full of tinder? Besides, why fight the crowds, risk the rain, go through the hassle?
But we went because, well — it’s our town. It’s our country.
So we parked a long ways off and ambled through the glow of the sunset, past the kids playing Frisbee and the dads cooking burgers on the fairway and the oblivious lovers and the brimming families. We nodded to neighbors and friends, who have seen us through hard times with soft hearts. We trudged past the row of fire trucks, manned by Rim Country firefighters who came back from the front line of grievous tragedy to stand guard over their own community.
We found a patch of grass on the shores of a lake created by visionary community leaders who thereby turned the conservation of our precious water into a community treasure. We sat suddenly idle and content on the shores of the lake as the daylight faded and the swifts yielded their spot to the bats, darting above the lake’s darkening shimmer.
We nearly jumped out of our skins and right into the lake when the first blast of fireworks exploded overhead, utterly without warning. The dog on the next blanket started barking hysterically. The children cried out.
For that moment, fear and dismay squeezed our hearts — as also have these times, these fears, the struggles of our neighbors, the deaths of our heroes. So we trembled and drew back.
But then as one heart, as one hope, we all turned our faces to the night sky. And suddenly, we felt full of wonder.
It went on for 35 minutes, the rockets’ red glare reflected in the still waters of the lake on a picture perfect night. The red smoke lit by the starbursts of fireworks drifted across the park as we exclaimed, becoming again as little children in our astonishment.
And when it ended, we all stood and applauded — somehow restored.
We shall not go back into that shadow to live crouched in fear. We shall not cease to mourn those we have lost, those who have given everything on our behalf. Nor shall we cease from celebrating the miracle of this town, this country — given unto our keeping.
The next day, everyday shoppers at Safeway donated $22,000 to a fund to help the families of the firefighters who died, writing the checks so fast the checkers could barely keep up — expressing such love the cashiers could not hold back their tears.
So we gather up the pieces. We go on — the firefighters on the front line, the patient backers of the college plan, the food banks, the school teachers, the cops on the beat, the Red Cross volunteers — and the people who stayed until midnight to pick up Green Valley Park after the 20,000 spectators filtered into the warm dark.
It’s true: We were frightened and sorrowful still.
But the fear is just red smoke on a night breeze.
It cannot hold us. It has no claim on us.
Not in such a town. Not in such a country.