I stood there on the Mall, one of thousands who flocked to the Capital to watch the fireworks spray color and light across the black sky on the Fourth of July. In the dark, parents called for their children to stay close; young lovers cuddled on the lawn. My family hovered nearby, but I kept a safe distance from where they lingered. Sometimes they got on my nerves, and for whatever reason, they were irritating me tonight.
A nervous tension buzzed through the sticky air as we all waited for the light show to begin. The most heat of summer clung to our backs and licked our tanned necks.
“When is it going to start?” my sister whined. “I’m bored.”
I rolled my eyes and took another step away from her obnoxious complaints. She never basked in the moments that were different from our ordinary lives. The beauty if standing in the evening shadow of George Washington’s tall and lean monument eluded her. Maybe if her chubby fingers were wrapped around a candy bar she’d appreciate this moment more.
“It’s beginning soon,” a voice on the lawn promised, and a wave of whispers murmured through the crowd. As the whir of voices drifted away, a high-pitched squeal whizzed into the air and exploded with a BOOM! Shadows around me clapped and cheered. Dazzling blue sparkles stretched across all directions of the sky and then floated to earth like little fairies. No sooner did they start to fall that another rocket shot into the night and red-hot glitter erupted overhead.
One after another, fireworks shot into the sky and burst bright chandeliers over our heads. Blue, green, red, purple, gold, and my favorite silver lights illuminated the Mall. Where normally I would have escaped into my imagination and transported myself to a fantastic universe where nights like this lasted forever, tonight I did not stray from the present, mesmerized by the exploding light and the static air pulsating with energies of strangers I’d never know.
This night would not last forever, I realized. It would end, like all others before it. Something about this awareness unsettled me. Why did it gnaw at my insides and fill me with dread? A bullet of truth penetrated my puzzlement: like this night, all life eventually came to an end, too. I was not exempt from this law. None of us were. We were mortal, I was mortal, a mere blip in the infinite space of time. One day in the future, I would not be alive to stand on a lawn and watch fireworks like this. My mother, father, sister would all be gone, too.
As people around me oohed and aahed the dozens of sparkly lights exploding across the sky, a fear of mortality – life in its simplest, finite form – paralyzed my heart. No matter what I did for the rest of my days, no matter how many nights I gazed at the stars and wished for infinity, I could not change the inevitable fate we all will face at one point in time or another.
Which made those fireworks all the more beautiful to behold.