Last night I was outside watering my flowers and just enjoying a beautiful evening. I took a few minutes to sit on the deck and bask in the solitude of the evening. The birds were stirring around the feeders, a few butterflies danced amid the blooming plants below and a couple squirrels chased each other up and down the wooden fence that borders our yard. My heart was at peace in this moment before me.
Without warning, the popping and banging of a pack of fire crackers repetitiously exploding in the distance, broke my solitude. For an instant, I was startled and frozen in place, along with the rest of the activity in my backyard. And then, the tension eased and quiet settled in again.
A couple questions were triggered in me during this moment. Why do we shoot off fireworks? According to an article in USA Today by staff writer Tierney Sneed,
“…fireworks have been a tradition of America’s Fourth of July celebrations since the country’s inception, with the founding fathers themselves seeing fireworks fit to mark the birth of their nation.
In a July 3, 1776 letter to his wife, John Adams declared that the signing of the Declaration of Independence should be a “great anniversary Festival” and “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
There certainly is a celebratory feel to fireworks and we don’t mind spending money that will literally go up in smoke to commemorate the day. Fireworks captivate our senses – their various loud shrieks, whistles, pops, and bangs; their brilliant, sparkling colors that rain down from the sky like glitter, the cloud of smoke and smell of gunpowder that lingers in the air long after the pomp and circumstance is over. Who wouldn’t like this kind of party?
What a thrill to be a spectator at the big hometown 4th of July fireworks celebration! There’s loud music, performances, food vendors, and the grand finale fireworks display artistically orchestrated by a trained pyrotechnic crew. On a smaller scale, neighborhoods and families organize 4th of July get-togethers where the little kids twirl sparklers and firecrackers are popping throughout the day. Many people anticipate and enjoy participating in the holiday festivities.
But what happens when the holiday celebration starts the week before the Fourth and doesn’t stop until the end of July? How does the unexpected sound of something similar to gunfire and missiles affect someone who’s not anticipating it? In this scenario, the price of fireworks may get very expensive. According to Jackie Maffucci of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a leading authority on PTSD and veteran suicide, “ …. vets are especially vulnerable to things like unexpected backyard fireworks that an individual doesn’t anticipate and can’t even get prepared for.”
Cory Siemeszko, in an article for NBC News agrees. He states, “That applies to a lot of Americans, as one in five of the approximately 2.5 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — or approximately 500,000 former military members — have been diagnosed with PTSD, a psychiatric disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events like military combat. It causes some sufferers to relive the trauma. In others, it provokes feeling of isolation or rage. And in other cases, it leads to substance abuse, depression and a host of other psychological and physical problems.”
NBC News concluded that it’s not that veterans don’t want people to have fun. Many vets will celebrate the day igniting their own fireworks. “But when you get woken up at two, three o’clock in the morning, it brings back those memories,” said Marine veteran Kevin Rhoades, when interviewed by NBC. The military men and women who selfishly serve our country to protect the freedom we have become accustomed to, deserve compassion and respect. Before you shoot off those left-over bottle rockets at the family reunion at the end of July, think about who might be listening and how it might affect them.
Spiritual Director, Recovery Coach