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The Fireworks Flag

Recently, I was a guest at the lovely Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club for their Independence Day celebration.  It was especially picturesque–complete with happy children splashing in the pools, an enormous cookout, and open bar.

Under the poolside high-ceiling cabana, slowly revolving fans bathed friends, parents, and grandparents below in a soft post-meal tropical breeze as they sat chatting.

Situated along Ft. Lauderdale’s scenic Intracoastal, growing numbers of boats — from small-cabined family cruisers and pontoon boats to anchored floating palaces — positioned for the big July 4th fireworks show.  Unlike inland celebrations, along Ft. Lauderdale’s extensive waterways, holiday fireworks launch from pyrotechnics-packed platforms in the water tethered to navigation buoys.

As I fought off strong waves of “maybe a little nap” temptation, an exuberant 4-year child ran up to his grandfather waving a small American Flag on a stick that had been part of a nearby Independence Day table decoration.

“Look Granddad!” he proclaimed while excitedly waving the flag. “It’s the fireworks flag!”  

He handed the little flag to his grandfather and in a flash, dashed away to play with the other sugar-buzzed yuppie larva.  

Gradually, the July sunshine gave way to the evening’s darkening skies.  Large yachts tied to the docks (I like big boats, and I can’t deny it) outlined a grassy peninsula adjacent to the cabana. Families, including the grandfather and grandkid, now moved to the grassy area of the small peninsula where they positioned themselves on blankets.  Anticipation was high.  It was almost showtime.

“Granddad!” the child pointed to several other American flags flying from the nearby boats, “more fireworks flags!”

This time the grandfather asked, “Why do you call it the “fireworks flag?

“Because the flags mean fireworks are coming!” he answered immediately.

BOOM! The first fireworks volley began.  The 4-year old instinctively burrowed into his grandfather’s embrace.

BOOM, BOOM-BOOM!  Being this close to the fireworks platform, I could feel the blasts from the nearby floating barge. It was similar to being in a thunderstorm and experiencing the “flash-bang” of lightning and its immediate thunderclap.  Whoa!

In a few seconds, the grandchild cautiously peeked into the sky marveling at the loud, colorful spectacle above him.  Soon, he happily joined the chorus of  “Ooooohs” and “Ahhhhs” from others in the blanketed area.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out the grandchild is mine.  And, that evening the precocious 4-year old taught his youthful, virile and ahem, studly grandfather a lesson in perception.  I never saw “the fireworks flag” coming. 

As depicted in the movie Truman, you accept the world you are born into as proper and correct, framing your world and forming perceptions from a circular combination of behavior modeling, negative/positive reinforcement, observation, et al.

In my grandboy’s world, if he saw an American Flag, a fireworks show would soon follow.  How adorable.

In a few years though, he will learn “the why” behind the 4th of July celebration and the sweeping, world-changing effects of that pivotal event.

He will discover our fight for independence was a horrific, brutal and savage clash.  He’ll read about that struggle for individual freedoms; freedom of speech, press, the right to bear arms, assembly, and religion.  He will understand this was a period of such suffering that history books today cannot accurately describe it.

He will develop a sense of awe for those America-Founding Fathers, and the enormous obstacles overcome in writing arguably, the second most pervasive document in the history of man by consensus of a group. Their signatures severed all political ties with Great Britain. That is well known. Rarely mentioned is: with this action, they also placed themselves at the top of King George III’s “Most Wanted Dead or Alive List.” They had to succeed — or they and all like-minded colonists were dead.

He will recognize the dangerous dichotomy produced by those 56 signatures; complete independence from Great Britain could be the only outcome.  There could be no compromise, no middle ground, no striking a balance, no give and take, no happy medium.  With this bold action, these delegates pledged to each other, all thirteen colonies, and all future Americans, their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.  The grandboy will also realize those citizen soldiers defending the declaration were poorly trained, poorly equipped, yet took on the world’s best military; the best trained, best equipped, the most experienced, and won.

But, as he will learn, winning the war was only step one.  Step two was hammering out the US Constitution. That happened in Philadelphia when the Constitutional Delegates forever fused together a pronoun, an article, and a noun.

Three words that changed a nation — formally defining America. These three words were a sweeping expression of the American mind and immediately became an American Cultural touchstone.

“We The People” was revolutionary political thought in the late 18th century. Indeed, it is still today not welcome in many countries. Nonetheless, those three little words would change much of the world as other nations adopted the American philosophy of government answering to the people instead of the reverse. 

These facts will drive a growing awareness in him that this nation is like no other.  He will recognize the brilliance of our Founding Fathers’ vision;  that individual freedom, individual choice and the dignity placed by this culture on the individual supersede everything else — and particularly, government overreach.  

He and his generation will come to see that maintaining this vision requires vigilance. They face ongoing confrontation with complacent citizens or worse, those persons who conspire to erode this unique cultural and political structure for their own personal or political gains.  

Likewise, he and his fellow Americans of the future will recognize that the flame of individual freedom is targeted by violent individuals, both foreign and domestic.  They fear the power of the individual unleashed in a culture that places this strength, this force, above everything.

He will marvel at the far-reaching power found in that historical three-word fusion.  Most importantly though, he will understand the responsibility to protect what those three words created, now reside in him. 

But for now, it’s the “Fireworks Flag,” and that’s OK.