The rockets’ red glare

“So, J., did you enjoy the fireworks last night?”

“Actually, I was pretty tired, so after supper I read for a while and then went to bed early.”

It helps to plead exhaustion (and to say so honestly) rather than trying to explain loud noises, hyperacusis, crowds of people, and anxiety. I haven’t gone to a fireworks show in years, and those are the real reasons for my absence, but last night I was tired, and I really did go to bed early.

I lay there in the dark, hearing distant public fireworks shows in several directions as well as some nearer backyard pyrotechnics. As I drifted toward sleep and back again, my mind began to wander….

I thought about an article I read in the newspaper that morning. It described military veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the struggles some of them face during celebrations that feature fireworks. During their military career, they were trained to react instantly to the sound of gunfire or explosions. In some cases that training saved their lives. Now, even years later, those conditioned responses still exist. Festive fireworks can bring strong and painful memories of combat events. Family members and friends need to be aware of the feelings these veterans face and know how to help them through the experience.

I thought about something I read in a book. A Confederate veteran of the Civil War had enjoyed a successful career after the war involving journalism, investments, and politics. In the summer of 1902 he was staying in a downtown hotel, and he borrowed a handgun from a friend, complaining about cats bothering him outside his window. During the fireworks show the night of July 4, when the sound of a gunshot was least likely to be noticed, he took his own life. He left behind a note mentioning, among other things, the Confederate losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg on July 4 almost forty years earlier. On other occasions this man had shown bravery under fire, both during and after the war, but through his successful career he clearly carried a wartime burden of hidden inner pain.

I thought about cannon fire in the Napoleonic wars and the American Civil War. I thought about the Battle of the Somme, being fought one hundred years ago this summer. I thought about German guns approaching Paris in 1940. I thought about watching the rocket’s red glare on television during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. I thought about recent events in Orlando, in the airport in Istanbul, in Bangladesh, and in Bagdad.

Perhaps some year I will be able to attend a fireworks show. It would help if we did not have American soldiers serving in a war zone anywhere in the world that summer. It would help if the world had gone a month without terrorist attacks or other kinds of senseless violence.

I am not suggesting that Americans should cancel fireworks displays until such a summer happens. I don’t understand the violence of boxing; other people feel the same way about American football, which I enjoy watching. We accept our differences, let one another enjoy their entertainment, and leave each other alone. So long as I do not have to go to the show, the cities can keep on shooting off fireworks when and where they choose. Meanwhile, a Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans. J.

12 thoughts on “The rockets’ red glare

  1. Yes, PTSD is no picnic. I live with someone who suffers from PTSD, I suffer from secondary PTSD and before that, I lived with my father who had PTSD. You never know which triggers will set them off. Oddly enough neither person has trouble with fireworks, but that doesn’t mean that others do not struggle with it. My trigger happens to be sirens. I have learned not to minimize the effect of those triggers. Thank you for raising awareness of the fact

    I admit, we were one of those setting off fireworks, but only in the legally designated areas. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen so many backyard fireworks in my life. Texas has far fewer restrictions than CA. It was fun! My kids were shooting off Roman candles and shouting “expecto patronum”

    I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day, even with the backyard pyrotechnics. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did enjoy my Independence Day–a day off from work, spent with family, and a supper of grilled hamburgers, sweet corn on the cob, watermelon, and root beer floats for dessert. As far as triggers, my worst is lawn maintenance machines like blowers and trimmers. Sirens don’t bother me unless I’m very close to the vehicle. I remember hating the sirens on the fire engines in the Independence Day parade, though, because I was much too close to them. My son is the same way–when he was little, he ran away from a parade because of sirens. J.


  2. Interesing J. I can’t watch MMA or UFC so that’s my parallel to your situation with fireworks. I am a veteran of Iraq but I love the sound and smell of fireworks and guns. But I know I can’t stand seeing blood and gore. I think seeing some people and their body after they died in Iraq made me felt I don’t need to see anymore of it. Ever.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I actually get that J. I do love a good firework show. But, it was some time after the first Gulf War before they didn’t make me nervous. I never suffered PTSD, but the booms and hisses made me jump for a while.

    I still don’t much care for the “big” displays, but the small ones at home are cool. I was in a Patriot Missile unit in the first Gulf War, and fireworks are quite similar to the sounds, looks and smells of them firing.

    Good post

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I just wish the neighbors wouldn’t fire their bottle rockets onto the top of my new $8,000 roof. But I want to keep peace with the neighbors so I don’t say anything and when the noise has subsided I go out and check to make sure the roof isn’t on fire before I go to bed. Other than that it is always a great holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

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