July 4, 1998,8:00 p.m.

 The Fourth of July.

The first day of a three-week vacation for me....and the birthday of our country. I could list all the things I like about America...and I do...but I really only know other countries academically. I've never been outside the USA. I'm about as "continental" as Barney Fife.

To children, though, the Fourth of July is about fireworks. From Chinese celebrations to Guy Fawkes Day to our own Fourth of July, there is something special about painting the sky. There is something special of, just for a few seconds, turning the placid transcendent eternal beauty of the nighttime sky--and suddenly punctuating it with the explosive, impatient energy of humanity.

 I remember a fireworks display in Brentwood, where I work. It was one Fourth of July several years ago. I think Eric was just a toddler then, and we would sometimes put him in the stroller. The "City" of Brentwood, an outlying suburb/city of Nashville, promised a magnificent display of fireworks. We sat on the grass on a blanket, waiting. We worried a little about Jamie. I've mentioned before the way his autism doesn't let him filter out his senses as well as the rest of us do...that sound, lights, colors can be overwhelming. How would he react to the sound of the rockets, the explosions, the intense lights and colors? Would they be too much for him? Yet...Brian deserved to see it, and so did Eric. Brian was about five then, and Jamie about eight.

We sat on the grass. We didn't bring lawnchairs. People began lining up. Brentwood was a very upscale, whitebread area, and though there were a lot of people, no one got boistrous. There was an air of expectancy as the sky grew darker and darker.

 Then we heard a whistle, as the first rocket streaked the sky. There was an explosion of emerald green and silver, shattering the sky and raining down fire in snippets too small to be harmful. Then there was a burst of red and gold, erupting in the sky. Then it was a flash of bright blue and violet. They were exclamation points written in the sentence of the sky.

You should have seen Jamie; his head turned at the sound of the first rocket. He winced and looked a little afraid at the soudn of the first explosion...but the fear melted into a look of wonderment and sheer awe---as to melt the most jaded heart. It's was as if he never knew the world was filled with such wonder, such magick.

Brian ran around, never still, never stopping talking.

"Look at that one, Dad!"

"Oooohhhh, isn't that one neat!"

"Lookithat! Lookithat!"

Jamie, though, barely moved through most of it. I couldn't swear he was breathing. He was perhaps...afraid to break the spell, to end the enchantment. It lasted an hour, and he only really started to move around the last ten minutes or so.

 When it was finally over, there was a traffic jam to end all traffic jams, trying to get out of Brentwood. Yet afterimages of one explosion after another seemed to flash in the dark. I kept on sneaking a look at Jamie, who looked very, very, very happy.

What did it looks like to his less-filtered senses? How bright, how loud, how miraculous was it? At that moment you might all envy my autistic--my "handcicapped"--son.

 I saw something interesting on the news today. For the celebrations at the end of the millineum, one scientist had a wonderful suggestion. He proposed we take the ICBMs that we are now retiring as part of disarmament treaties and put them to a very different use. They were developed in what I regard as one of America's greatest mistakes...the atomic missile buildup during the Cold War. He is going to use them to do something...magical.

He proposed to fire them into space, and when they are pulled back into the atmosphere by gravity...not quite reaching escape velocity...they would contain thousands of plaster of paris balls, filled with special fireworks. The head of the re-entry would ignite them, and the resultant show would be able to seen for a hundred miles. That's just from once ICBM. If we launched dozens, or hundreds...all aimed to fall into the sea...we could have a spectacle that would be unbelievable in scope.

What a stunning idea that is. How smart to turn weapons of mass, horrible genocide into vehicles for lighting the sky with beauty and wonder.

I hope it happens. Surely there's no better way to usher in the Millenium.

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