Finding a topic for this first blog post was like trying to mentally prepare for a first date. I sat myself in front of the mirror and thought of all the cool ways I could make my splash in the blogging world.
I wanted to come off as funny, but not too funny. A cutie, but not a try-hard. Snarky but not an asshole (ok maybe a little bit of an asshole).
Something like that.
All weekend, I distracted myself with work and watching Bob Ross paint beautiful landscapes instead of putting my hands to the keyboard and pumping something out. Finally, I set a deadline, hoping that the time crunch would force me to produce some Grade-A material to share with you all.
Yeah, it didn’t work.
Monday, 4th of July. One day until my deadline to post on this blog. I linked up with two of my friends from my internship and spent the day at Coney Island. We drank Angry Orchards and sparked conversations with other people lounging in our area. I brought a notebook, hoping its presence would entice me to whip it out while I sunbathed. I had the right intentions, all the notebook did was collect sand at the bottom of my bag.
I was running out of time.
So, I posed a question.
What is the cost of freedom?
Many Americans would exclaim proudly, “Your freedom has already been paid for by our ancestors and the armed forces!” *waves American flag, rifles fire rounds and eagles fly by*
Maybe July 4th is a defense mechanism to distract ourselves from the shitty things happening everywhere in this world. Terrorism. Hate. Gentrification. Literally, everywhere.
Maybe it’s because we really do like crowded beaches, overpriced hotdogs, and really shitty pictures of fireworks.(I’ll share my shitty picture later, I promise)
But I don’t think it’s that simple. Let me explain.
After many hours soaking up the sun, my trio decided to go to DUMBO to watch the Macy’s fireworks from the Promenade. I leaned against my beach umbrella, already fully committed to the idea that I would never write a blog post. Next to where we stood, a whole family dressed in ponchos joked around and took group pictures of them in front of the bay.
My friend Luis, bored and still a little buzzed from the beach, turned to them and said, “Oh my God, those ponchos are a fashion statement. I love them!”
One of them, an Asian man in his late forties, turned towards us and started laughing.
“Yeah, we saw a deal for these ponchos at this Rite Aid on the way here,” he said.
From there, we began to talk, exchanging random bits of information like strangers do when they’re bored out of their minds waiting for the same damn thing. (I swear, 2 hours waiting for those fireworks)
Finally, I asked him where his family was from.
“We’re actually from Orlando.”
When he said that, I gave him my full attention.
He proceeded to tell me how he was a professor at Valencia Community College, where several victims of the Orlando shooting attended. In fact, he had taught some of them himself, including Mercedez Marisol Flores. One of his coworkers, another professor, had planned to go to the Pulse nightclub that night, but cancelled only an hour before heading out to what would be the worst mass shooting in American history.
He stared out into the bay, surveying the sky where the Twin Towers used to reign before 9/11. Between every detail, he took a long pause and sighed, like he was lifting a heavy weight and putting it back down. And in a sense, he was. I could hear the sound in his voice; that somber tone that people acquire when they have felt tragedy close to home.
“You know what I keep thinking about?” he said, looking straight at me.
I could see the pain reflected in his eyes.
“Whenever someone thinks of Orlando, all they will think about is that tragedy. It’s really sad that all of this has happened.”
After a long silence (and still no damn fireworks), I thought to look around.
To really look around.
There were people everywhere. Like ants-all-over-that-potato-chip-you-left-under-the-couch-last-week kind of everywhere. Terrifying, I know. But the thing was, overshadowing that hidden desire to hide in my apartment away from civilization, pride swelled in my chest.
It was in that moment that I found the inspiration.
I looked around and saw old people, young people, brown people, white people, couples, single people, LGBTQ people, straight people. First and foremost Americans, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.
I turned to the poncho man and smiled.
“But we’re still here. And because of that, hate hasn’t won.”
And, I shit you not, the fireworks began as I said those words. Flashing blues, reds, and whites lit up the sky seconds before their sound ricocheted off my chest. And collectively, the crowd of people surrounding me, my fellow Americans, let out a long, “Woahhhhhhhhh!!!!”
For forty minutes, we watched a celebration of a country that is far from perfect, but still ours.
Because even in the wake of tragedy, we still dust off our scraped knees, wipe the tears away, and Stand Back Up.
For some, including our ancestors, the armed forces, and the victims of terrorist attacks like Orlando, freedom cost them their lives.
But on July 4th, freedom only cost some of us a train ride to a borough you don’t like, a few cold beers, and your time.
And now that you have made it this far, I reward you with my shitty fireworks picture!