Oh, Say, Can You Hear?

If you held back on bangs, pops and especially BOOMS this Fourth of July season, Missy would like to thank you.

For those of you who know our Missy, that may sound a little odd. After all, Missy slams out music from her stereo at a volume that the band in “This Is Spinal Tap” would envy, with a dial that goes past 11 and all the way to 17. Back in the days when KBPI bragged that it “rrrrrrocks the Rockies,” I’m pretty sure Missy was already shaking a fourteener or two herself with an ultra-high-power recording of “Rocky Mountain Way.”  

But she’s also developmentally disabled. That comes with a few side effects.

One of hers, as it turns out , is that she really hates sudden and unexpected loud noises.

Most of the time, that just means she jumps out of her shoes when she hears a motorcycle rev up or a car backfire. But when we get into the second half of June and the first week of July, it often becomes an auditory minefield that keeps her nerves on edge and her sleep uncertain.

Don’t get me wrong. I personally have nothing against Independence Day fireworks. Growing up, I used to wave sparklers, light fountains, and even climb up the ladder to the roof with Dad to watch the local skyrockets. (That last can be an interesting challenge when you’ve just soaked down all the shingles to guard against someone’s stray illicit bottle rocket.) It was a night of noise and color that easily lit up a grade-schooler’s heart.

So yeah, as long as it’s not a bad wildfire season, I can get on board with some July 4 special effects, finding ways to keep the dog calm and Missy distracted for one night.

It’s the three to four weeks of constant vigilance for the additional voluntary celebrations that can get a little wearing.

I know we’re not alone. There are folks who have their own issues, maybe because of a pet who thinks the world is ending, a vet who doesn’t need to hear explosions without warning, or a neurological issue like Missy’s where the sharp stimulation is just too much. Those stories and more are out there and we hear about them from time to time.

So if you dialed back the usual artillery this year – or if you’re holding back these next few days after the Fourth is done – thank you. If you’re thinking ahead to next year and maybe revising a few plans, thank you. We really, truly appreciate it.

More than that, we appreciate the spirit behind it … the same spirit of thoughtfulness to neighbors that has been reinforced so many times in the last year.

That thoughtfulness meant masking up as the pandemic set in, even when it was inconvenient and annoying, so that others could survive.

That thoughtfulness meant hitting the shovels and the snow blowers over and over in the midst of a major March blizzard, even when resting in a warm home would feel so good, so that others could make it through. (Trying to guide a wheelchair through a snowy sidewalk is No Fun.)

That thoughtfulness meant taking a moment to think of others, even when it meant a little more work or restraint for ourselves.

That’s the sort of thing that builds a good neighborhood. A good community. Even, carried far enough, a good country.

That’s a spirit that’s worth celebrating. And I think we can do a bang-up job of it.

Er … so to speak.

Nation in Progress

For a moment, the show seems to be over. Then the fresh explosion comes. BOOM! Sound and fury light up the landscape until it feels like a battle in full swing, with moments of fiery brilliance giving way to a continuous background chatter, holding the floor until the next burst.

Watching Facebook is really something, isn’t it?

OK, maybe the comparison’s a little inaccurate. After all, even the longest Fourth of July fireworks show is eventually over. But our national fulmination never seems to end, always finding a new source of fuel. A Supreme Court ruling. An inept political remark. A decision to pull “The Dukes of Hazzard” reruns from the airwaves.

Squeeeeeeeeeeee-BOOM!

Between an unsettled nation and unsettled times, it can feel a little exhausting. It’s easy to wish for quiet, for stability, for a little time to make everything make sense before we have to go on to the next crisis.

It’s also about as foreign to this country as Justin Bieber in a Beatles movie.

Sorry for that image. But on this, I think even George Washington might agree. Once he got the tune to “Baby, Baby, Baby” out of his head, anyway.

I think it comes down to something simple: America should never be a comfortable place to live.

I don’t mean the landscape should look like something out of a Mad Max movie. And I’m certainly not suggesting a “Love it or Leave It” attitude that urges all dissenters to make a run for the border of their choice.

But America has always been a little more than a country. It’s a concept. A conversation. Even a dream.

And as such, it’s never really finished.

Once in a while, some pundit will appeal to the Founding Fathers and what they did or didn’t intend. My reaction is always the same: “Which Fathers?” To look at the American Revolution and the years that followed it is to see chaos in a bottle, a group of people that sometimes seemed unable to agree on the lunch bill.

Some wanted to save slavery, or to kill it. Some wanted 13 loosely tied sovereignties with little national leadership, while at least one wanted to do away with state governments all together. We were a year into our war against Britain before we could even agree on why we were fighting. Even our Constitution, venerated by many, is deliberately vague on several points – and had to be, so that everyone could think their side had won.

We are a wrangling people, in the middle of a country that’s always under construction. And that’s not going to change. We’re always working out what America means and we always should be. If we ever stop challenging each other, or being challenged, worry.

A free land should never be a quiet one.

Mind you, I’m not saying we have to be a bunch of rude, bumptious yahoos, either. Part of the constant struggle is that it’s a struggle to find a way forward, not just to make noise. There can be respect. There can be compromise. There can be intelligent consideration of the facts (I swear, even as the network news tries to say otherwise every night).

But what there can’t be is apathy. Or complacency. Even the loudest boor adds more (if maybe not much more) than the individual who steps out of the fight entirely.

The conversation has to go on. Even if it sometimes wakes the neighbors. Or, if we’re lucky, the nation.

Enjoy the fireworks. And don’t forget to light a few of your own.