Make yourself at home

Oh, say, can you see the fireworks?

The first verse of the national anthem poses a question. July 4 celebrations suggest an answer.

  • Palm Coast Observer
  • Opinion
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I don’t get too excited about fireworks. Seen one, seen them all. What I love is watching my children watching fireworks: the wonder, the flashes of light on their angelic faces, the patriotic —

“How long does this last?” 9-year-old Kennedy moaned as the bombs were bursting in air.

“Is this the end?” 6-year-old Luke asked hopefully.

“What do you mean?” I said. “We came here for you!”

“It’s too hot,” Kennedy said.

Their older sister Ellie, 14, pulled out her phone, the helpful fact-checker. “Actually, it’s 82 degrees,” she said, holding up her weather app as proof that it was actually not too hot to enjoy the festivities.

Undeterred, Kennedy moved on to her next complaint: “Too many bugs.”

In their defense, this particular Fourth of July experience featured a vehicle about 100 feet in front of us that inexplicably had left its headlights on, shining right in our eyes. When the driver finally turned them off, halfway through the show, I sarcastically clapped a few times. No one joined me. It was too hot to expend that kind of energy.

“How do you know it’s over?” Luke asked, lying flat on his back to escape the cloud of mosquitoes hovering over us.

All things considered, it was an underwhelming night for the children. But during the drive home, I thought about how blessed we are to live in this nation, under these circumstances, enjoying the luxury of skies lighting up for pure entertainment.

In other parts of the world, the skies light up with real bombs. 

Every mortar that explodes into a smiley face emoji is a reminder that we are safe and sound in our little Florida towns, far from the terrors of war. We are free to drive to the middle of town with our families, complain about mosquitoes and heat, and not for a second worry about whether our home will still be standing when we return. 

Is the United States perfect? No, but it is a land of liberty, a symbol of idealism, and soldiers risk their lives every day — for us.

Earlier in the day on July 4, I took a few minutes to talk to Kennedy about the national anthem, the poem by Francis Scott Key, written at a time of uncertainty after a battle. He asked himself then, and he asks us now, centuries later, after a long night, whether we can still see the star-spangled banner waving? Or has the warfare of the night taken down our flag?

The final stanza of the poem, provides Key’s answer to his own question, and they seem to me a challenge, an invitation, a prophecy, to be pondered with every firework screaming across the sky:

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, 

And this be our motto: "In God is our trust,"  

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave 

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.



Brian McMillan

Brian McMillan and his wife, Hailey, bought the Observer in 2023. Before taking on his role as publisher, Brian was the editor from 2010 to 2022, winning numerous awards for his column writing, photography and journalism, from the Florida Press Association.

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