I dare suggest that the Fourth of July is truly a radiant holiday. It has always been one of my favorites, that patriotic sense of community, the celebration of America, that knowledge that we all love this one country of ours.
This deep sense of patriotism and community was inspired in me as a very young girl. My father had grown up in Blue Island, Illinois, right outside of Chicago. Every summer, around the fourth, we would take a road trip from Middletown, OH to Chicago to see our grandparents, cousins, and all sorts of extended family. While for this little five year old the six-hour drive seemed never-ending, the results were always worth it. Days upon days of playing in new spaces, with cousins I didn’t get to see nearly often enough, and grandparents who doted on us; those trips were sacred.
Blue Island to me, was the quintessential American town. We would celebrate Independence Day there, starting the morning with the parade. Standing along the parade route I would watch my parents talking to so many people as they made this annual pilgrimage home . If Mom and Dad were talking, my grandmother was always there, hoisting us up so we could see, or holding our hand so we wouldn’t get lost.
I loved the parade, though the fire engines were so noisy I would always cover my ears. We all cheered the bands and laughed at the clowns. The parade had to be the best in the country, at least to me. We all waved flags during the parade and if I couldn’t find mine, there were several people jumping to give me theirs. That day, in the town of Blue Island, I felt what it meant to be American, to be part of this great country of ours.
After the parade had ended, we would find our way back to my grandmother’s and cousins’ homes for a cook-out. The men manned the grills so that hot dogs and hamburgers were in constant supply. We spent our afternoons eating and playing until it was time to get ready for the fireworks. There was only one place to go for fireworks in Blue Island, Eisenhower High School. We would get there early and Mom would put a blanket on a patch of the football field. We would lay down on our backs and wait for the explosions of colors to light the sky above us. I was always a little bit afraid, what if the embers came all the way down on me?
I wonder if I knew the word radiant at the time? I don’t really know. But, as I remember those nights, the sky was radiant. The deep, dark night, spotted with bright, little stars would explode in color. We would all gasp and ooh and aah at the same time, without even trying.
And now, I ask myself, isn’t the fourth of July the definition of radiance? We are one nation, under God, with the beautiful light of fireworks connecting us all as we jointly sing God Bless America. On the Fourth of July however, it is not just the fireworks that are radiant, but it is us. We, the people, are radiant as we celebrate this country of ours. We are the light, given by God, that shines most brightly at the celebration of our country’s birth. As freedom rings, let all of us shine….