What Fireworks Taught Me

A Monday Meditation for July 6, 2020

St. Peter’s

You know what I learned this weekend?  I learned that don’t like setting off fireworks at home. You’d think I’d already know this, but apparently, this was the year for me to really learn it.


Why am I sharing this, with you, now?  Well, this revelation has had an affect on my spirituality – that’s why.


It goes like this. Due to the pandemic my spouse and I are not comfortable being in crowds yet, and we have a small(ish) child. Fourth of July celebrations start pretty late at night – definitely past bedtime. The logical solution to this “problem” was, of course, to set off our own fireworks in our driveway. We did the same thing last year. I did it growing up. I remember the snakes, the pops, the sparklers, fountains, etc. I also remember the burnt shoe that was a result of stepping on a sparkler. “No big deal,” I told myself. “We’ll be safe. I’m fine.”


I wasn’t fine. I started with a lawn chair a safe distance away from our lighting zone. I winced when I held my first sparkler, cringed when the first spark touched my skin. I even jumped a little when one of the snakes started growing. In my head, I knew it was harmless; my heart told me otherwise. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Our child saw every reaction and started to mimic my responses.


We started small, and the bigger fireworks were left until the end of our time outside – for the “finale” of course. Some of the fireworks did what we expected. Some did not. One went much higher than we were prepared for and “flew”. I moved my chair back. My kid moved back further.


By the time our “show” was over, we were WAY farther back than where we started. At least two of us were much more comfortable and even willing to say that we had fun! But then I realized something. I realized that there was an image in my head that I just couldn’t get rid of.


I kept seeing firetrucks, low hanging clouds, a bunch of smoke, people running up a hill, more firetrucks, an ambulance coming through a crowd, more smoke, picnics disrupted – a scene of chaos. It was the fireworks display in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, sometime in the 1980s. The winds were either too strong or non-existent (I can’t remember), and a person was hurt badly by a firework. I honestly can’t remember if he lived or died. I just know that I can feel that memory in the very core of my being. I’m pretty sure this is why I don’t like setting off fireworks.


Decades later, with the setting completely different, the magnitude of fireworks completely different, me completely different, I am still remembering that sobering moment.



My faith changed in that moment. I realized that we can’t just “get rid of” old thoughts or experiences. Maybe you know this. Maybe you knew this, as I did, but haven’t really internalized it. See, I have had a lot of experiences in my life, and all of them come together to make up ME. What I have forgotten is that just because I WANT to believe something different (I really DO want to love fireworks at home), I can’t always erase all of the history/experiences that I have had that make me respond in various ways to events around me.


I can’t NOT remember that man who suffered on that Fourth of July so many years ago. What I CAN do is to work to realize change my response to current events that might be related. I see some parallels with the pandemic and with conversations on mental health, racism, and the “state of our country.” It’s not as simple as telling another person what they should believe or how they should behave. It’s not as easy deciding that you are not what you used to be. The process of living one’s faith means taking note of the reactions that bubble up within and then responding in an intentional way. On Saturday, it meant that I had to move my chair a few times.


With regard to racism, living my faith might mean that I have to be corrected a few times. I might have to feel embarrassed or sad or angry.


With regard to the pandemic, living my faith might mean that I have to live differently than those with whom I’ve shared a closeness for a long time. I might have to feel lonely or misunderstood or judged.


With regard to mental health, living my faith might mean stepping back or moving close to something or someone… and the “answer” might be different for you than it is for me. I might have to feel fragile or uneasy or at risk.


With regard to church, living my faith might mean doing community differently or worshiping in a new way or reaching out to volunteer in ways that didn’t feel necessary previously. I might have to feel longing or dissatisfaction or the pain of change.


The key – and this is what fireworks taught me – is that I don’t have to stay in those feelings. I can move my chair forward and backward as many times as I need to. I can feel fear and move my chair back. I can feel trust and move my chair closer. I can feel sadness and move back again – maybe not as far back as the first time. I can feel excitement and inch forward just a tiny bit.


The tragedy would be if we all picked a spot to put our chairs and then never moved them.


See, we are all collections of experiences, and God calls us to engage those experiences, not just have them. I have had to take some time to process my reaction/response to fireworks. I’ve also had to acknowledge (humbly) that my responses affect my child, my spouse, and myself. I will state the obvious. This is true for MUCH bigger issues than fireworks; our responses affect far more than just ourselves.



Let me end with this… this whole experience with fireworks happened with one of the most beautiful moons rising high in front of us. It was more glorious than any of our fireworks, if I’m being honest. However, I needed those fireworks this year – the ones that made me really uncomfortable – because they helped me to see that moving my chair was an act of faith and my faith needs to do some moving as well. How about yours?


Honest… as always,