Sunday, July 5, 2009
Americans - We Love Our Excess
I concluded last night that we truly are an excessive people, we Americans. I don't say that critically, although it is also one of our worst faults. Last night I loved us for it.
KB took me to Albany, New York, last night to witness the annual fourth of July fireworks. I've seen them before - one year from the fire escape outside my downtown apartment, once from the off-ramp near the epicenter at the Empire State Plaza, once from a distant hillside with my then-baby son.
I've never seen them from right on the Plaza.
In recent years, we've restricted ourselves to the local fireworks, which I think are pretty impressive. But this year KB's son and his young family were visiting and it seemed a perfect place to meet.
We arrived around six. The place wasn't too crowded and we wandered, bought something to eat and waited while we watched the crowds grow. It was a gathering of babies and young children and the arrival of KB's two young grandchildren instantly inserted us into that set - grownups with kids. As the sun set, we found a spot in the center of it all and little K2 was hoisted on his dad's shoulders. They live in a small town down south and neither mom nor K2 had ever seen a big city fireworks display. The baby just doesn't care - nor did she change her mind as the show began.
The whole display, sponsored by the local supermarket chain, takes place across the street from the capitol, where our senators have been refusing to work for almost a month. I looked to see if any of them were there with their noses pressed against the window. The governor hasn't been able to do much, but he has demanded they keep coming to chambers.
So it began - a carefully choreographed show combining music, ground lights and massive, sky-splitting displays. It really was amazing. I found myself grinning and looked over to see K2 doing the same. They even timed it so when The Who sang, "Love...rain on me..." a heart appeared in the sky followed by a shower of silver sparkles. Pretty impressive.
It went on forever and got progressively louder...and then we heard the opening notes of "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
"This," I yelled into KB's ear, "is going to be manic."
It was. I think it is not only possible but likely that they used as many fireworks during that finale as they did in the entire rest of the very generously lighted display. A series of fireworks were all exploded at once, creating a massive cloud of smoke, light and noise that seemed to swell out toward the crowd and cover us all. I covered my ears and yelled. KB was grinning like a kid. K2's eyes were blue saucers. The baby sucked on her bottle. Then they did it all over again.
When it was over, there was a collective exhale from the crowd and loud applause. And I had to love Americans in that moment.
Where else in the world do crowds of people all over the nation gather once a year to watch pretty lights and hear loud noises? We are kind of silly that way but it may be the thing I like best about us. I'm sure all nations have their own brand of foolishness.
I think if we could all meet on that ground, that place where we're all just big, goofy kids, we'd find our common humanity is a lot bigger than our cultural differences.