As I sat in Schilberg Park watching the fireworks display on this fourth of July, I was wondering what it meant. Why do we create these displays of light and noise every year at the celebration of U.S. Independence Day?
This year, when we planned our holiday, the weather was a major consideration. The prediction was for rain, and a look at the radar showed a line of yellow echos stretching from Minnesota to Oklahoma. Pretty amazing isn’t it, that in the U.S. the average citizen can access data directly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? Not wanting to be in the middle of an outdoor activity in the rain, we decided to spend the day at The Discovery Center in Rockford, Il.
We met up with Grandma and Papa, and went on a four-hour odyssey that involved trains, planes, kayaks, play houses, pizza making, cranes, tractors, combines, soybeans, corn, air tubes, echo tubes, infinity tunnels, caves, water tables, car repair, giant floor pianos, potato shooters, crafts, lots of climbing, TV production, laughter, and sheer exhaustion.
It’s really great that a modestly sized city like Rockford, one rocked so by this current recession, can have a children’s museum ranked 4th in the nation. It’s really neat that there are educators, scientists, artists, and organizations like the National Science Foundation that are putting their heads together to figure out how to inspire children and their adults to learn and discover. It’s really neat that there are companies like Papa John’s, UPS, and Wheels by RT that are willing to donate a little money and a few supplies for an interactive learning center. It’s really great that the museum is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. All that says a lot about the United States.
So, in a way this visit to the Discovery Center was every bit as appropriate a celebration of our nation as a picnic in the great outdoors and a big parade. The Discovery Center celebrates the very qualities that allowed the U.S. to become an independent country to begin with. Creative and articulate thinkers came together, penned some documents like the Declaration of Independence, formulated plans and strategies and sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for a nation they believed in. Think about the people involved. John Adams, a man of amazing thought and integrity. Thomas Jefferson a man who was able to capture those thoughts and articulate them in a way that still resonates more than 200 years later. Benjamin Franklin the man who “captured lightning”, understood the printing press and was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.
Our ability to think creatively, explore science, know our history, and articulate our thoughts and vision combined with that Puritan work ethic has made our nation great. Think about Orville and Wilbur Wright and their flying machines, and how many times they tried an failed, or Thomas Edison, or the engineers supporting the Apollo 13 mission who used the things lying around an Apollo capsule to get three astronauts back to earth safely. There are the folks who designed the Hubble telescope, and the folks who figured out how to put “glasses” on it later. Think about the great authors: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Lee, to name a very few. Think about the architects and artists or the great journalists of the Edward R. Murrow era or the conservation scientists like Rachel Carson and Theo Colborn who have alerted us to the damage we are doing to our nation’s resources. Consider the activists who dared to reach out to people in need like Clara Barton or Elizabeth Blackwell.
The United States of America was founded by intelligent, creative thinkers who were willing to work hard and help those around them when help was needed. And that is what places like the Discovery Center embody. They encourage exploration and lifelong learning. They give every child a chance to experience wonder first hand. And, they work because of generous gifts of time and resources.
And that same spirit of creativity and generosity is what fireworks display and festival on the Fourth celebrated and illustrated as well.
As I sat back and watched the sky light up above me, I notice spiral patterns in the fireworks this year. That’s new. Someone had to figure out how to design charges that can make spirals. I know (by virtue of being married to a controls engineer) that there is an elaborate electrical controls system that times the detonation of the charges for the display. A lot of hard work and creativity, and knowledge of chemistry and physics went into that display. And the festival on the park grounds? The one that shouldn’t have been there at all because the carnival owners found a better paying venue? Somebody in our hometown didn’t take “no” for answer and spent a lot of time on the phone to get those rides and booths out to Schilberg Park on a weekend when pretty much all vendors are booked. If you enjoyed the festival, that person deserves a big thank you.
Yep. Creative thinkers. Hard workers. Caring Communities.
Happy Independence Day. It’s good to be an American.