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.