By Emily Erickson
Growing up, I loved the Fourth of July. Leading up to the holiday, red, white and blue pennants were hung between buildings; grocery store displays featured sales on bomb pops, crackling rock candy and sparklers; and chairs staking people’s spots on the sidewalk began showing up a full day before the town’s parade.
The morning of the Fourth, my siblings and I would wake with the general excitement that comes from knowing the day ahead would be different — better than a regular day. We’d throw on whatever stars-and-stripes-themed shirt that fit and devour the special-occasion pancakes my mom was at home from work to flip. With large plastic bags in tow, we’d hit the streets, collecting the handfuls of candy tossed by familiar faces atop decked-out floats and from their open car windows.
Even more than working my way through a bulging post-parade bag of candy, I loved the fireworks. Stretching out glow stick-covered limbs on a large picnic quilt in the grass, my siblings and I would invent a new exclamation for every firework blasted — our “kazaams!” and “ka-blamos!” adding to the cacophony of “oohs” and “ahs” around us.
But, as an adult, the Fourth of July has lost its magic. Being the loving owner of several pets who are boom-averse, the buildup to the holiday is a lot more stressful than exciting. My partner and I preorder a week’s worth of trazodone for each of our pets (an anti-anxiety medication commonly used for dogs and cats), and prepare to quell the waves of distress that will inevitably last as long as people’s DIY firework shows.
This year — after five consecutive sleep-disrupted nights with my dog barking in anger and confusion, stress wagging his tail and whimpering mournfully with every blast, and groggy-eyed mornings prying my cat out from under the bed — I can’t help but reflect on how far from fun the holiday has become.
In my pets’ (and consequently, my own) anxiety, all the lighthearted excitement is sucked out of the affair. And that feels like an apt description of most things these days. The general heaviness of being an engaged citizen in the world has the side effect of stripping things of their benign wonder.
A Fourth of July parade is no longer a simple celebration by a community, an opportunity to engage in playful togetherness through handfuls of tossed candy and grandiose waving. It’s also an opportunity (or maybe obligation) to display a stance about the current state of our country and what it means to be an American at this moment in time. I no longer feel the cavalier luxury of grabbing whatever stars-and-stripes-themed shirt that fits; but, instead, I feel the pressure of measuring the meaning and impact of my prospective wardrobe choice.
Should I don orange to make a statement about all the lives lost to gun violence over the decades — an epidemic as fundamentally American as the parade itself? Or maybe I should wear pink in solidarity with the millions of women who are feeling less independent this year? Or can I wear red, white and blue after all, not in blind patriotism, but in support of the service members who sacrifice so much for me to have the freedoms I am afforded? Finally, am I ready to spend the energy defending whatever shirt I do put on?
We’re not only asked to carry the burden of all the injustices we see in our community, our country and around the world, but to bring them with us wherever we go — defending and displaying them as extensions of our identity. And the weight of that responsibility to care about everything, all the time, is exhausting.
The alternative, apathetically flitting from day to day, from parade to parade, comfortable in my own entitlement, doesn’t fit quite right either. More than ever, I see myself in my dog’s reaction to fireworks — barking in anger and confusion, stress-wagging at all the things I don’t understand and whimpering at my inability to immediately alter my surroundings.
For now, I’ll focus on the good things in my life, the people who are kind to me and to one another, and the seemingly tireless work of others dedicated to creating positive change — a metaphorical trazodone taking the edge off in my search for the perfect balance between engaged participation and cowering under the bed.
Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.
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