For Canada Day, our friends Raj and Sara invited us over for a backyard fireworks display. Sara is a vet, and she’d bartered a box of fireworks in lieu of cash payment for some surgery on a poodle belonging to the owner of a grocery store. We set off roman candles and bottle rockets, and lit catherine wheels nailed to the fence. Raj plays the cello a bit, our friend Maggie had brought her clarinet, and I’d dusted off my nylon-string guitar. We played quirky, fumbling versions of O Canada, Ode to Joy, and Helpless, while a half dozen kids ran around the cherry and pear trees, waving sparklers with the sort of wild abandon that the hours after bed time can inspire.
It was long past midnight before the kids were finally bedded down in sleeping bags in the basement. The adults sat around a table on the deck and talked by the light of a half dozen tea light candles stuck in the bottom of a big glass bowl, the flames floating in the still darkness like tiny, luminous goldfish. We drank chai and talked about hockey, Bollywood, Japanese surf bands, the federal election. We picked out constellations in the night sky, recited Monty Python routines about cheese shops and crossing the Andes by frog. We listened to Thelonius Monk and exchanged ghost stories and laughed and yawned, while moths circled about our heads. Gradually, the sky began to lighten in the east.
Walking the two blocks home that morning, with my child wrapped in a blanket and balanced on my shoulder, I had what seemed to me a strange, sleepy-headed clarity of awareness. I thought about all of the fear and alienation that seems so much a part of modern life. I thought about the isolating effects of technology, and about bigotry and misunderstanding, and about all of those people leaving their work cubicles and driving single-occupancy vehicles home to their gated communities in the suburbs.
Then I began to think about all of the odd little communities of people that spring up like fireweed out of this burnt and unpromising ground. I thought about the book clubs, and the bowling leagues, and the groups of soccer mums and dads huddled under umbrellas on the edges of great swampy fields. I thought about the old Chinese women playing mahjong in the lounge of the rec centre, and the old Italian men laughing in the sunlight out on the bocce court. I thought about my daughter and her friends picking blackberries and playing handball against the side of the school and about the woman pushing her husband’s wheelchair across the hospital lawn.
Most of all, I thought man, if there is any hope us, any hope at all, it’s got nothing to do with the great and terrible things we’re capable of. It’s got nothing to do with security council recommendations or mapping the human genome or colonizing the solar system. It’s because we like the sound of laughter, and because, when our children skin their knees, we kiss them better. It’s because we like sharing plates of food and sections of the Sunday paper, and because movies are so much better when we see them in theatres full of other people. If there is any hope at all, it springs from the strange and awkward and profoundly beautiful ways that we reach out for each other, over and over again.