Craning toward the heavens
By PAUL TAMBURELLO
We’ve always looked to the firmament with awe, wonder, or fear. It wasn't long ago that we spent months looking at smoke ascending to the sky as a smoldering monument to our lost innocence, our shattered sense of security. On the evening of July Fourth in Falmouth, thousands of spectators on land and sea craned their necks toward the heavens in anticipation of a reassuring annual ritual.
Dusk had settled in leisurely measure over Falmouth Harbor, the orb’s last golden rays lazily giving over to the transparent slate blues of early evening. Then, imperceptibly but absolutely, it was dark. We spectators on a deck in Falmouth Harbor for our annual holiday picnic, busy with our chatter, hardly noticed the graduation.
The food and company were the main ingredients but the grand finale, a point of reference for the rest of the summer, was going to be the display of firepower soon to be rocketed into the sky from the barge floating placidly offshore.
This evening was actually one of the only times our lives would all intersect until the next Fourth. The subject of our past shared experiences of fireworks fair and foul came up just as often as the whereabouts and whatabouts of our children, our jobs, and the precarious times in which we’ve been plunged since last September.
The fallout from that late summer day, the indelible image of two fireballs of inconceivable dimension, comes to mind now every time we look up into the sky for anything.
At about 9:10 p.m., the fireworks announced themselves with a single airborne explosive shell and a sky opening explosion of color. We didn’t know it yet but we were in for a treat.
On a night with the gentle onshore breeze blowing away the heat of the day, we witnessed the most imaginative display of fireworks wizardry in memory. God, (sorry, the name just slipped out) we needed that. It may not have surfaced to a conscious level of thought, but I needed to experience the comfort of an annual tradition. I felt reassurance as I listened to the universal ooohs and ahhhhs which reflexively burst out of our mouths as the dazzling pyrotechnics lit up the sky. I needed to see wonder in the firmament.
The smoky wisps of dissipated fireworks drifting lazily over the beach to slowly melt into the night were stealthily thawing the sense of self preservation I had built up since last September.
New blasts of color blooming and booming overhead performed unexpected and crowd pleasing dances and sky walking jigs. Primary, decorator, and patriotic colors artfully segued one after another, often punctuated by a few staccato bangs followed by a basso profundo bone shivering KaBoom.
Some fireworks exploded in surreal slow motion, arching upward then cascading to earth with unbelievable grace in huge, lingering, slowly fading golden trails. I felt mysteriously sheltered, as if under the branches of some heavenly willow tree.
With creative celestial choreography, many of these gentle tokens were succeeded by volcanically propelled bursts that reminded me of the stars blurring by in a Star Wars movie. " Hyperspace speed, Chewy! "
At one point, I found myself sitting back and surveying our crowd of 14 people, Gen X-ers to 70-somethings. I felt a sense of kinship with this disparate group of friends. Our differing opinions about politics, religion, and race were blown away like the smoke from the incendiary display overhead.
If there’s one thing the world is in need of it’s kinship, a sense that we all belong here together, and, stripped to the core, have the same basic aspirations. Do life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ring a bell?
The enveloping darkness made me aware of my puny size in the grand scheme of things. My synonymous responses with those of the crowd made me feel safe and secure within it. It occurred to me that I don’t feel that way any more with unquestioning acceptance. The simple routine of watching the fireworks together was not so simple this year.
When I saw that incandescent willow tree gracefully cascading over Falmouth Heights, I knew it was offering us all celestial shade for that night, a temporary respite from the hateful gleam which may yet cascade upon us on another day.
Paul Tamburello is a writer and teacher who lives in Watertown.