I don’t need to look at pictures because I hold snapshots in my heart. I close my eyes and picture my son running down the hill with a star-spangled top hat perched on his toddler head. The next year he holds hands with his sister, with red, white and blue goggles flopping behind his ears as they jump into the pool.
I replay memories on this Fourth of July. I stare at my nineteen year-old son’s face. He seems so mature and contemplative as we banter about this year’s menu. I laugh at his request for sparklers again this year.
I add them to my grocery list. I suppose we’re never too old to want to light up the sky with the loopy cursive of our names. I secretly hope he’ll always want to see the fireflies awaken.
If I close my eyes I can see the scene from years earlier, when the kids were nine and seven. Dusk is just settling and we begin to see the flickering lights along the path. My son pokes holes in the lids of mason jars at the picnic table. Wooden flags are pressed into the Georgia clay around the campsite and his sister bursts from the camper, ecstatic this July 4th.
“Is it dark enough yet?” she hollers.
“Not yet, sweetie… not yet,” I answer. It’s a question of great importance to her and her brother on this day.
“Soon,” I encourage them. “Darkness will come soon enough. Go play some more in the sand.”
Although the summer solstice was a week earlier, it seems like the longest day of the year.
The arrival of the night sky drags in slow motion. Children know that its pitch black coming is the only way to see the brilliance of the shimmering lights. The two of them load the jars into a backpack along with a flashlight and glow sticks, armed for the summer darkness.
I gather the sparklers, soft drinks and snacks into a basket for later.
The lightening bugs begin to slowly appear. The two of them chase each one they spot madly around squealing: “There’s another one!” The discovery and wonder is beautiful and I watch them from my lawn chair. Each is careful not to smash the tiny fireflies and they work together to place them gently into the glass jars. When they need to catch their breath they line them up along the picnic table to show me. The glowing jars signify that the long wait is almost over. They are the first sign of hope: fireworks are coming.
As dusk settles and all lights but the campfire dim, their hands grab sparklers as fast as the adults can light them, They write their names in shooting silver over and over in the air. My son holds his sparkler up to his face and grins wide at me. His dimples glow pure and his blue eyes full of wonder shine back at me. His sun-kissed cheeks are smiling. His face reminds me how beautiful and brilliant we shine in the darkness when we are silhouetted in light.
When the sky has settled to a summer chalkboard black the sparklers have all burned out. Our eyes are tired and everyone’s bedtime has passed. My son leans back on his father’s lap and my daughter lies with her hands behind her head on the blanket, her face to the sky in expectation.
This year I will buy sparklers and check the cabinet for mason jars. Because sometimes we need the darkness to come. We need to know that our small flicker is seen in the looming wilderness and that what burns inside us cannot be jarred and taken. We need to lay on our backs in the coolness of the grass and look up long and hard, waiting for the first burst of showering light.
Maybe on Independence Day we long to remember that our mark here may seem fleeting and small, but that in truth we are bright and courageous and worthy up against the dark.
We need to know that the light of the world is inside us. Like a firefly.
I’ll light a sparkler soon and hand it to my son, and send him out.
Out into the darkness of the summer night like a shining star.