Yesterday on the fourth of July, I walked down to the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Long Beach, California. I said hello to the giant oil rig adorned with palm trees, cleverly disguised as some benign floating hotel. The lights of the other rigs flickered out on the water, breaking the waves that people used to surf along this beach. The lights on the giant cargo cranes in San Pedro sparkled, their red, white, and blue arms feeling the patriotic fervor. Boats anchored everywhere, awaiting the firework show. Families, people, and cars bustling up on the bluffs and down on the beach; folks riding every type of wheeled contraptions up and down the boardwalk. Children ran and squealed in the serf, lovers snuggled under blankets, parents held babies, teenagers gossiped, stereos blasted, and bar-b-ques smoked as the last of the sun cast a soft glow over the melee. I walked along the water line, letting the mild waves rush up around my ankles and recede, exposing little shells and causing me to stumble as the water changed direction. The tide was coming in, moving the line of trash further up the shore and melting down sand castles and foot prints. I have walked along this beach at least once a year for going on 15 years now. I take three mindful breaths, and smile at the view.
Up on the bluff as the sun has dimmed, I watch screaming children run around with sparklers and families set off small high-pitched fireworks. Occasionally a big one fires up over the crowd and explodes with a huge bang, and I watch the police drive around the beach in their little carts, trying in vain to find the perpetrators in the crowd. Helicopters, sirens, car horns, music, talking, yelling, screaming. On the south side of the pier fireworks bloom on the horizon, fireworks to the right from downtown Long Beach, rouge fireworks from the beach below, and now fireworks across the bay that the folks here have come to see. There are explosions everywhere – low rumbles from far off, the crackling of small ones on the beach, bigger pops from the formal displays, and crazy loud BANGS from the rule-breakers. The crowd can’t help but flinch and exclaim, but it is mostly with delight and excitement. Charred remains fall onto the beach, fall into the water and sizzle.
No one is deeply worried for their safety. No one is under any illusion that these pretend bombs might actually be real. No one here has ever experienced a real bomb, seen up close the damage it can do to buildings and people, heard the bang when it is dropped intentionally near you, unconcerned with you, and no one thinks they ever will.
We light fireworks to celebrate a war that we didn’t experience, a war that made our country what it is today. We celebrate with fancy faux bombs, meant to delight children and adults alike, with large warnings and protocols on how to use them safely so that no one accidentally gets hurt, implicitly making war seem like a big community party.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the death toll is rising to 200 from a bomb set off in a crowded market, intentionally meant to cause damage. This news comes to us so regularly that we can’t tell one from the next. Only when it happens in a European country do we discuss it online or change our profile pictures in solidarity. Meanwhile, other people will never understand why we would subject ourselves to a celebration of fake exploding bombs.
The world is surreal, life is strange, existence in absurd.