This year I could do without the fireworks. I bought them, of course, but between the mountain embers glowing from a brush fire, eclipse of the sun, teeny, tiny Venus making her way across the sun, I'm good. Except for sparklers. Since my chubby little hand could hold a sparkler, I have loved the echo of light as I tried to spell my name. It's a tradition I savor and grounds me to home.
21 years ago (I know, you're shocked that I was even ALIVE 21 years ago), I started another tradition on Independence Day. I'd been feeling restless and lonely without knowing the cause. I'd been surrounded by people for nearly 3 weeks - more people than usual. I'd met new friends, seen new sights, and was feeling weary. I was running around Europe with a friend. We carried close to our hearts (literally, we put a small purse in our shirts. I had plenty of room. She didn't have as much) our passports, Eurorail Pass, traveler's checks, and a return airplane ticket home from London in about 3 weeks. We had no organized agenda or tour group. We made friends along the way and scribbled furiously in our journals to document the experiences we were having. It's not surprising that I was weary. But weary in more ways than one.
My traveling partner decided to shower and I called out I was going for a run. We were in Salzburg, Austria. Running at this time in my life was not unusual, by the way. Running at night was also par for the course. As I ran up a hill, my eyes kept getting caught by little lights in the bushes. I finally realized I was seeing my first fireflies.
I crested the hill and stopped to catch my breath. I had been running to the rhythm of my own little pity party in my head. It was a holiday back home but here in Austria, nobody cared. It was a holiday I always spent with family. As far as I knew, I didn't have family on that continent. I knew I was feeling selfish and ungrateful. I'd just spent the day running around while taking in the sights and sounds of "The Sound of Music." Of course, I had even climbed a mountain just so I could twirl around and sing, in very best falsetto voice, "The hills are alive! With the sound of music!" Then I'd have to stop because I didn't know the words beyond that. But we took photos and tried to synchronize our Do, Re, Mi. Yet on this black night with fireflies as my company, I finally pinpointed my restlessness.
I was homesick.
To clarify, I didn't want to go home, yet. I wanted something to connect me to the stability of my home and family. I missed them. I missed my bed. I missed driving my car. I missed my bedroom and familiarity of my own sheets. I missed being with people more than a day or two before parting ways. I craved something familiar.
It was at this moment that I looked upward at the moonless and cloudless sky. I knew one constellation well and I knew where to find it in my own sky at home. I could find it at every college I attended, every camp I endured, and every vacation I took in the United States. Shortly after looking heavenward, I found the Big Dipper. It was the same pattern as at home. It was still there and my heart reached out and touched it, feeling the familiar tug toward heaven. I didn't feel alone anymore. I felt loved and important even being a tiny speck on the big planet in an even bigger universe. I felt heard.
Since that night in a country far from home, I celebrate the holiday with the usual fireworks (and sparkler). But after everybody goes to bed, I wander back outside and look up at the one constellation I knew. It is my reminder to myself that when I am feeling alone, I need to look heavenward.