Today we continue our first Essay Week, featuring the work of a new writer each day. Enjoy Wednesday’s piece.
by Charity Chain
Dusk is my favorite time of any day, but this one is even more special. I’m sitting in the bed of a pickup with my husband and boys, enjoying glow sticks and chocolate shakes, watching the sun set and people walk by. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the feeling of community, outside of church, that I do on the evening of July 4th of every year. No matter what everybody in town is doing, come night fall, we all gather in this certain spot, hoping to be entertained, to mark our heritage, to feel our patriotic pride rise up within us and at the end of it, go home in the dark of night, nodding and sighing in appreciation of our privilege.
It seems we’ve been sitting in the truck for a long time, but eventually our patience is rewarded. One loud POP announces the beginning and from there we enjoy the explosive light show, the glittering of the embers as they fall in every color and pattern one could imagine.
During the spectacle in the sky, a motorcycle pulls up next to us. I think it’s always interesting to watch motorcycles park, because invariably the rider takes off his helmet and it’s always an unveiling of sorts. In this case, a man I thought might be a middle-aged hip dude, turned out to be a white-haired Gomer Pyle of an old man. He watched the show for a few minutes and then started fumbling through his bike bags, surprising me when he pulled out a shiny new iPad and started taking photos of the sky.
I empathize with him. It’s a beautiful sight. One that you would want a memento of. But I’ve learned the hard way that there are some things that just can’t be captured in photography.
The immenseness of the Grand Canyon is a good example, and the way your mind has trouble comprehending the size of it. You feel as if you’re looking at some kind of optical illusion, and that maybe you could extend your fingers and reach the other bank if you tried. But you dare not for fear if you even touched the crest of this great abyss, it would swallow you into the vastness of its negative space. That can’t be captured.
Or a live concert. The way the vibrations of the music rattle your bones and your soul, melding them together. How the artist leaves a piece of himself there on the stage in the sweat that dripped off his face, the thoughts between songs, the swaying of his body when he plays or the crack of his voice at that soft spot. That can’t be captured either.
So it is with fireworks. Their very charm and elegance is in their movement. And enjoying them is in the experience. Our anticipation directly correlating with their swift, whistling rise into the air, our suspense in the momentary pause mid-flight as we hold our breath, and then the moment they explode into sparkling, colorful merriment, satisfying everyone under them like a gift opened, a surprise given, a journey ended in home’s threshold.
Even video doesn’t do it justice. There is a third dimension to their sparkle, a roundness to their pop, an excitement in the closeness of the flame and the smell of the spent gunpowder. You just can’t put that in a pocket and bring it home. It’s an experience. Something we all wish we could photograph and save for later and share around the water cooler, but which invariably develops into a flat, sterile blur of sad stripes down a piece of photo paper or a smudgey screen.
There are lots of analogies floating around about life and the nature of things. Many of them overused and cliché and maybe this one is just so. But tonight I thought about how my experience on this planet is so beautiful, so exciting, and colorful. How there are many moments of anticipation along the way and how there is also great satisfaction in a goal accomplished, a cherished place visited, a friend well-loved. I thought about how quickly life is over, seemingly one pop and it’s gone. But how I see others shining so brightly, being just who they were made to be, carrying their light along with them as they float down to the unknown end. How people are ever-searching for meaning in it all, and that maybe the best meaning is to truly look at each other, appreciate one another, oooh and aaah at the beauty that God has put into each of us.
I can be kind of a sentimental person. I savor ritual and liturgy. And as a family historian, I treasure headstones. The thought of everyone having some kind of monument to them after they pass, seems comforting: something to visit when I miss them, a proper spot to pay respects. But I’ve heard all these newfangled things you can do with your ashes after you die and I’m intrigued. Imagine what our ancestors would have thought, if they knew our spent bodies could be turned into marbles or diamonds or used to grow a tree.
One of the newer ideas is to have them packed into a custom made firework, and as irreverent as it sounds at first, I think there is something that rings metaphorically true to this idea. Oh, how simply glorious it would be to just shove the ashes of my heart – love and wounds and all – in with the nitrates, my anger and disappointments in with the copper, my wishes and dreams and fear in with the sulfur and the salts. I say light that sucker and blow it all to kingdom come. POP. All over. Just like life itself. In the dusk of my day, having my ashes scattered to the wind, floating down in the light and energy I hope to leave to all who witnessed it.