Fireworks spark memories that are more than mere nostalgia

2 mins read
Ray Hennessy | Unsplash

As we watched this year’s fireworks celebration, my cousin MariClaire curated a world-class playlist. There are two options for fireworks playlists. You can compete with them, playing bold classics like the “1812 Overture” or lively anthems like the “Indiana Jones” theme (or anything else written by John Williams). Or you go the understated route, allowing the fireworks to shine, with more subtle favorites really just setting the mood. MariClaire, happily, chose the latter.

We had a perfect setup this year for firework watching. Lounging on the pier, cold drinks in hand, my family enjoyed the background music as we chatted, waiting for the display to start. When fireworks began to appear across the lake, we cheered our favorites and sang along to the songs we loved.

Anticipating perfectly when the grand finale had begun (an art all its own when you’re watching a fireworks display), my cousin queued up one of our family’s summer favorites, “Top of the World,” by the Carpenters.

The passing of time

Way back before tape decks, my grandmother had a Carpenters album in her boat, which became the de facto soundtrack for evening boat rides (on an 8-track cartridge). The boats have been upgraded over the years — tape decks, cd players, now bluetooth compatible — but the soundtrack for night boat rides has continued to include that one song.

So when my cousin dropped it in the fireworks playlist for our family, it made perfect sense. In fact, my sister, who was holding her sleepy-eyed 3-year-old (who was watching fireworks for the first time!), teared up.

It was a perfect night. At that moment, I couldn’t help but notice the passing of time. I thought about all the wonderful memories I had of summers at the lake with my family. I love my cousins and those long summer days filled with skiing, swimming and more adventures than I have space here to recount.

In his beloved memoir, “Confessions,” St. Augustine declares: “Great is this power of memory, exceeding great, O my God — an inner chamber large and boundless! Who has plumbed the depths thereof?” It seems to me that, today, many people would rather put their past behind them. With the promise of happiness achievable by self-reinvention, people forge new “families” among their carefully curated troupes of friends and forsake who they once were and where they came from. But in abandoning where we’re from or what we’ve known and loved, we’re forgetting parts of our own selves.

Memory is an anchor

For Augustine, memory is an inextricable part of the self. We’re not confined to merely our memories, of course. But we cannot disregard them either. For whatever belongs to the good, the true and the beautiful, therein, belongs to God. As Augustine says: “For from the time I learned You have I never forgotten You. For where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the Truth itself, which from the time I learned it have I not forgotten.”

Memory is an anchor, protecting us from being lost. Rather than a restraint, with the grace of God, it helps us to know the hidden corners of our hearts. Some memories must be healed, of course, but there’s nothing beyond God’s mercy.

I thought about the next generation and what my niece and nephews would receive from our family. Caught up in the nostalgia of summers passed, my memory was renewed, filled with gratitude for what had been.

The fireworks dissipated, the playlist ended, and boats returned to their moorings. We gently transferred sleepy toddlers, speaking in hushed tones. It was all so simple, so familiar. And that night gave me hope.

Father Patrick Briscoe

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar and the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Along with his Dominican brothers, he is host of the podcast Godsplaining and a co-author of "Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God." He is also the author of the OSV seasonal devotional, "My Daily Visitor."