‘Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations’

 ‘Guns, Bells, Bonfires  and Illuminations’

By Sean McVeigh

I have a bit of an infatuation with John Adams. I think he is our most underappreciated Founding Father. Sure, he may not have had the most successful presidency, but when it came to the effort for American Independence, he was second to none. Thomas Jefferson — the darling of the Fourth of July these days … for good reason — referred to Adams as the “Colossus of Independence” for helping to advance the idea within the Second Continental Congress. When the Committee of Five was established to draft a declaration, the other four — Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston — all thought Adams should write the first draft. It was Adams who insisted Jefferson take the first crack and, well, the rest is pretty much history.

After the war had been won and the signatories of the declaration were certain that they would not be hanged for their treason, the Fourth of July became, rightfully so, a day of unbridled celebration. Adams, writing to his wife, Abigail, even before the safety of victory, said about the day, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Well, every night this week, John Adams’ hopes will be made reality … because every night this week, from one end of the peninsula to the other, there will be an incessant barrage of fireworks being set off in Rockaway.

There are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy fireworks and those who don’t. Can you guess which I am? Every year, Rockaway turns into a pseudo-war zone around the Fourth. Explosions are set off all night, every night. As the sun goes down, the beach will be lit up with a bombardment of fireworks. Every block seems to have their own local pyrotechnician who spent thousands and thousands of dollars on these elaborate arsenals of “illuminations” as Adams might say. There is no option to watch from a distance. You back away from one encampment and you are walking into the crossfire of another.

I don’t understand the hype. If you have seen one firework display, then you have seen them all. But the real mystery to me is the person who accepts the responsibility of purchasing, setting up and setting off these explosives disguised as playthings. I say “responsibility” but there is always a very willing volunteer. Maybe they are just adrenaline junkies. Maybe they are just morons. Maybe a third option? How many stories have we heard of people blowing their hands off with these things? And most of the fireworks are duds anyway. Sure, they go off but it’s just a whistle and a pop.

This Independence Day, I will celebrate by raising a few cold ones in honor of the 56 brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence 248 years ago, and the even braver men who have fought to uphold the ideals of that unprecedented document ever since. I am thankful every day that they dared to step into that uncharted historical territory and, in doing so, become the envy of the free world. When the sun starts to set, I will pack up my things, head home and hunker down with my wife and pup as the celebratory blitzkrieg begins. And when the sun rises in the morning, and the rockets and bombs are no longer bursting in air, I will look out my window and the flag will still be there.

Happy Fourth of July! God Bless America!

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