After the Fourth of July celebration here in the states, someone said to me, “You know, if I couldn’t see the fireworks show, I probably wouldn’t go. Is it hard for you to sit there while everyone else watches the fireworks?”. I said, “Well, yes and no.” Here’s how I ended up explaining my answer. I’ll try to keep it short. (Yeah right, like THAT’S gonna happen!)
I watched many fireworks shows when I was fully sighted. 50 years worth to be exact. The colors, shapes, and sizes would rarely disappoint as they lit up the sky. But now, all I see are flashes of lights. No colors, no sparkles, no shapes – and if I sit and stare at the sky, and think about what I’m missing, I hear a little voice in my head say, “This isn’t any fun. This blind thing sucks.”. And with every boom, crackle, and sizzle of the night, that pesky little voice becomes louder. Sometimes I do wonder if it’s worth sitting at a fireworks show when I can’t enjoy it the same way as everyone else. So yes, there are moments when it’s hard not being able to physically see the fireworks like I used to.
I grew up in Coronado, California, a small beach community. The Fourth of July parade, parties, and picnics are annual traditions in the “Crown City”. And of course, there are the celebratory fireworks at night.
When I was very young, my family would grab blankets, give us kids flashlights, and walk 2 blocks to the golf course. Along with the entire town, we would plant ourselves in the same grassy spot every year to watch the fireworks. It was a tradition. I don’t know which was more exciting, the fireworks or staying up way past my bedtime!
As a teenager, it was way more cool to go to the fireworks with my friends. We would (umm, possibly), sneak a few wine coolers into our jackets, grab the blankets, and walk to the usual spot on the golf course. It was a tradition. Well, the wine coolers weren’t an EVERY year thing. I mean, who likes those? Troublemaking teenagers in the 80s, that’s who!
After having my own kids, we would return to Coronado for the 4th of July festivities. And of course end the day by grabbing the blankets, giving the little ones, including a cousin or two, their own flashlights, and walk to the usual spot on the golf course. I loved watching the kid’s expressions and excitement as they stared up at the sky. Just like I did when I was their age. It was a tradition. And, I let them stay up past their bedtime too.
Fast forward to 2018, and we still go to Coronado for the Fourth of July. My kids are in their late teens and 20s and I’ve been legally blind for 5 years. Even though I can’t see the fireworks anymore, the family grabs blankets as I grab my white cane, and we all walk to the usual spot on the golf course. As the fireworks begin, I may turn towards the sparkling explosions, but I’m not really watching. I am listening. I am listening to the “Ooohs and Ahhs” and the comments made by my family as they watch the show. They announce and describe their favorites as they look at the sky, just like I did in years gone by. They always sound spectacular, and I try to picture them as such. But. You guys. Listening to my kid’s voices filled with excitement and laughter is more magical than the biggest blooming firework I could ever imagine. Mentally visualizing my kids enjoying the moment and building memories of their own fill my heart and soul. It’s a great feeling. So no, it’s not that hard to sit with my family while they watch (and audio describe), the fireworks. It’s still a tradition. It’s just a different tradition for me now.
Sometimes it’s not all about me and what I can’t see. (Wait, what? Says who! tee hee!). I’ve kinda had to accept the fact that I have to experience the fireworks and our tradition differently. I know this is a small thing in life – watching fireworks is certainly not a daily struggle for the blind. As with so many other visual situations that arise after vision loss, we have to find ways to deal with it. Whether it’s through a change in one’s mindset or with the use of assistive technology – you know what they say, “when there’s a will there’s a way”. I didn’t choose to become legally blind in a matter of 8 months, but I can choose how I can make my fireworks experience, and Coronado traditions, enjoyable and well worth my time.