All of childhood’s Independence Day celebrations were unique and rich, certainly a sentiment shared by many. One thing, however, remained constant in those recollections. We sat still and observed the fireworks careening through the sky, but didn’t move ourselves. We participated in the imagination, but with the body at rest. My mind, however, goes to a Fourth of July that was quite the exception, only a few years ago.
My wife and I visited the Palouse country in eastern Washington, over two hundred miles from our home in western Oregon. We were riding a Kawasaki 1000 Concours, and considering our ages, the ride was appropriately dubbed Youth’s Last Hurrah. Due home by the evening of the Fourth, we left the Palouse in the blazing afternoon heat and proceeded down the Columbia at a good clip just to feel the air against our faces.
Stopping at the river park in the small town of Arlington, we noticed that a new shrine had been erected to Arlington’s war dead, from every branch of the service. The elderly man who stood next to us came right out with it. “So what do you think of our new tribute?” Answering that we thought a great deal of it, he said, “You know, whenever someone does something really important for us, an obligation exists on our part to remember what was done. Otherwise, our forgetfulness is going to require more people to go out and do it all again.” This was one of those times when straight, simple talk was the best talk.
I recycled his words in my mind as we continued west, and as we reached Cascade Locks, the first hint of fireworks could be heard. Dusk deepened as we passed Multnomah Falls, and the first multi-colored streamers rose up over the Columbia.
At Gresham, the first real display burst open, and I realized how different it all felt because we were moving through it and with it, instead of just watching. We flew past Lloyd Center, rose up to the overpass, joined the Willamette on I-5 and rounded onto the tall double-decker bridge overlooking the city. Wouldn’t you know it? That’s when Portland’s fireworks display cut loose with everything it had, with us up there in the middle of it – above, below and around. And we weren’t just watching. We were interacting, participating. I felt as though that celebration was for us — and it was.
It occurred to me later that Oregon wasn’t in the union on that first Independence Day, but the founding fathers weren’t just thinking in terms of the what is. They were making provisions for a million possibilities, Oregon being one of them. Just as we did when we danced with the fireworks on that bridge, I thought that we’d better stop watching and start interacting, participating — and remembering.