Written 4 July 2008
There is something special about being by yourself in the dark, existing in a room lit with only a single candle. You experience aloneness in a new way – you don’t see the rest of the room, you cannot make out forms or figures, and the silence is firm, real, tangible almost. My family lost power in the storm a couple of days ago, and I lie in bed at night, my room consumed in the darkness. All that I can claim is the teeny orb of light that my laptop and the candle on my nightstand emit. The flame flickers and pulses, like a honey-colored heart, and I relish the stillness, especially after a day like today.
The Fourth of July is quite epic in my family. Patriotic to a fault, my mother takes it upon herself to buy every piece of kitschy red, white, and blue paraphernalia that she can find and forces us to wear her treasures. Every year we go to the parade in the tiny village where she grew up, where we were raised, where the quaint white farm house that she lived in until the day she married my father is still called the Creamer house. My wonderful Aunt Carol hosts a delicious annual brunch for my entire family at her house, and then we walk to the main square in time to hear Mrs. Healy sing God Bless America. Mrs. Healy is a close family friend, possibly my mom’s godmother, and every single year her aging, lilting soprano fills the air with song. Her voice is nice in the fact that you know it was beautiful once – she played the lead opposite my Papa in some community production of Guys and Dolls a million years ago, and she continues to pepper our family events with hugs and songs.
This particular village loves the quintessential American holiday just as much as my mother does. Flags fly on every telephone pole beginning sometime in June, and a banner stretches across the main street that says, “Happy Fourth of July!” Hundreds of smiling people mill between the church, the community building, the park and the Village Sundries, and everyone wears some sort of red, white, and blue ensemble. Lemonade stands spring up in driveways, red wagons and strollers clog the sidewalks, and children hover near the edge of the street, simply waiting to dive in the way of the parade for candy. The same announcer narrates the parade every year, with intermittent comments from Mrs. Healy, and his commercial voice booms over the sounds of fire trucks and tinny bands. Young people wander down the walk in search of friends, as the old-timers stay firmly planted in their fold up chairs, waiting for others to come find them. Despite the fact that the parade never changes and is borderline painful to watch because it is so boring, the whole scene could not be more perfect. It’s like a time warp, and for that one hour of that one day, I live in Mayberry, Leave it to Beaver land, the tiny village that America was meant to be.
The day goes on in more Americana revelry. Farm chores, poolside lounging, grilling out with family – one can’t help but to be overwhelmed by patriotism, love, happiness. As the sun sets, the party moves to the lake, where everyone bundles up and sits on the dock to watch fireworks. Brilliant colors glitter in the sky, and surrounding areas compete for the best show. All along the horizon, magnificent displays light up the night and the stars and fireflies are nature’s contribution.
Today should have been the best day of my summer so far – the weather was truly perfect, I spent the entire time surrounded by the family that I adore, we laughed, we ate good food, we celebrated, and we relaxed. Honestly, I could not ask for more. And I don’t; I am blessed beyond reason, and I thank God for all that He has given me. Still, something was off. I felt heavy, and I do not think that it has anything to do with the copious amounts of Tootsie Rolls and grilled chicken and potato salad that I had for lunch.
The birthday of a former loved one, this Fourth of July marks a painful part of my life, a dark period of time where I was far from God. I went through today plagued with thoughts and memories that I had believed were behind me. Unfortunately, the past comes back to haunt you when you least expect it, and that was what happened tonight. As I sat on the dock with one of my favorite aunts, ghosts from months ago cuddled up next to me, drew my thoughts away from the present. I half watched the fireworks, half retreated into my mind, into the land of “what-ifs” and “what-nows.”
The fireworks continued to illuminate the night, and I realized something. When a firework explodes, it lights up everything around it, including the smoke from the sparklers before it. I found myself waiting for the light so that I could see the smoke, and then it hit me how dumb that was – there was an incredible, colorful explosion that everyone else oohed and aahed about, so why in the world would I want to see that measly smoke? Immediately I saw the parallel to my own life. My past is over. I cannot go back, I cannot change things or do anything differently. And you know what? That is okay, because God has forgiven me. He has given me grace and made me new, and He is trying to put on a spectacular fireworks show in my life, but as I sat on that dock tonight, I just wanted to watch the smoke of my past. I wanted to focus on the pain, the regret, the longing, and all along God just wants my attention long enough to see His beautiful masterpiece of life and love.
I love lying in bed in this inky darkness. After a day of sirens, loud laughs, and explosions, there is something deeply and profoundly spiritual about the stillness of silence, and I love it…but I don’t want to miss the fireworks. I don’t want to settle with my peaceful, simple little candlelit life when I could have an explosion of passion and color and brilliance – I don’t want to stay here in the dark, waiting to see some smoke, when I could be cheering and watching God splatter paint across the night sky. I want more than a half-existence, a life haunted by memories; I want so much more than that. So even though I am about to blow out this candle, overwhelm myself in darkness, close my eyes, and fight dreams from the past, I know that I have a future hand-painted by God Himself. I can only hope that there are a lot of fireworks involved, and next time I will not be watching any smoke.