Just Watch the Fireworks

Monday, July 5, 2010

I have a notably terrible memory, but I remember how I've celebrated nearly every Fourth of July since I was 17. It's far & away my favorite holiday - no religious rituals, no old-timey traditions, no set-in-stone celebrations. Just doing what you want with people you love.

When I was younger, we spent a few years going to family friends' house on Independence Day; in my little kid brain, they had the greatest holiday picnic on the planet. There were sparklers & Roman candles (albeit far, far from safety-conscious me); there were those little white pellets that explode when they hit the pavement; there were Firecracker popsicles & watermelon slices & pasta salads with little slivers of pepperoni in them, because that's what Midwesterners do with pasta salad. More importantly, there were friends & there was fun.

As I got older, it remained my favorite holiday - in part, perhaps, because I don't recall ever having a bad one. When I was 17, it was the holiday during which I reunited with my high school boyfriend; as we kissed on a hill after a fireworks display, an elderly couple commented in passing on the joys of being young & in love. When I was 18, I tearfully saw my college boyfriend off to Army boot camp at an Independence Day barbecue with his friends & family. When I was 21, I spent my first 4th in the District, decked out in the touristy-but-requisite red, white & blue & picnicking on the lawn of the National Mall with other summer interns. I've now spent three more holidays in the District, including waiting out a thunderstorm at the base of the Washington Monument & more than one incidence of grilling & day-drinking.

I think I liked it so much - like it still - because nothing about the Fourth of July ever feels mandatory, like the formal, sit-down dinners of Thanksgiving or sitting through services at synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The Fourth is a holiday free-for-all, doing whatever you want to do with whomever you like most & eating food that's undeniably tastier than that of any other holidays (read: hot dogs). Maybe I'm actually a closeted romantic, though I shudder at the thought - something about fireworks, so big & beautiful & booming, makes me feel both small & important, like there's plenty to discover & take on & learn & love.

This weekend followed suit with the Fourths of July that came before, proving to be a perfect long weekend full of all the right things. Last night, my friends & I forewent the Mall in favor of grilling on friends' roofdeck, with an almost entirely unobstructed view of the fireworks; when they were over, the whole deck erupted into raucous cheering after a man proposed to his girlfriend. And when we turned away from the spot where the fireworks had been, we found that smaller displays were going on all across the city & into Maryland & Virginia, little explosions of colored lights popping up in the distance as far as we could see. The idea that throughout the metropolitan area - throughout the country - people were doing the exact same thing as we were, celebrating with friends & taking in the day, was somehow both powerful & simple, & of course the view & the company were unparalleled.

One of my favorite songs has long been Jimmy Eat World's "Just Watch the Fireworks," which always reminds of the Fourth of July, though there are no real references to it. The lyrics go, in part, "Here, you can be anything, anything that scares you. I think that scares you." They've always felt applicable to my life in DC, a place that has always been so beyond me, even when I've been in love with it. There's so much here - so much power, so much potential. On that Fourth of July four years ago, I cried at the end of the fireworks display on the Mall, promising myself that I would move here, that I would find a way to return, that I would become something that scared me.

Four years later, it seems I may not be in DC come this time next year; I say that regularly, I know, but this time, it feels truer. This Fourth was simpler than holidays past, yet another reminder that my life is infinitely good - but that it is also different than it used to be. "You can be anything, anything that scares you. I think that scares you." Time changes everything, & everything has, indeed, changed.

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