It Could Have Been Otherwise

We spent the Fourth of July like many others do.  We got together with family and friends, we had a cookout with way too much food, and we set off some fireworks once it got dark.  The family fireworks are always a highlight of the day, and we all anticipated a great show this year.  What we didn’t bargain for was the near-disaster they turned into.

As dusk fell the men (family tradition dictates that it’s always the men who prepare and set off the fireworks) brought out boxes and boxes of pyrotechnics (all legal, here in New Hampshire).  We sorted through the stash, prepared the fuses, and decided what order we’d shoot them off.  The rest of the family, including children, enjoyed blueberry pie and ice cream on the deck overlooking the “launch site.”  The first several displays went off without a hitch.  And they were met with appropriate “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” from the friendly crowd.  As we try to do every year, we started off small, building up to the “big stuff” toward the end.

About halfway through our show, we had a little glitch.  As rockets went soaring skyward, a couple, for unknown reasons, shot off to the side.  One came buzzing by those of us standing near the pile of un-ignited fireworks.  We laughed it off as an abberation and kept going, bringing out the “big guns” as we neared the end of our show.  Then, right in the middle of one of the biggest displays we had, the entire thing blew up.  It was a massive explosion that sent red-hot rockets sizzling in every direction.  Including several that aimed right at the crowd.  People dove for cover and ran in every direction.  Once the smoke cleared, we took a headcount.  Everyone was accounted for and safe.  No one was injured by the blast.  Never, in all the years of setting off family fireworks, had we had such a close call.  (It wasn’t until the next day that we learned that another family suffered a similar malfunction that seriously injured several small children.)

Fortunately, my wife and daughter missed this whole incident.  They had decided to drive our grandson home before the show began.  But they had a close call of their own.  As they rounded a bend in the road, my daughter noticed a large shadow looming off to the left.  She slammed on her brakes just as a bull moose, standing as tall as her SUV, loped across the road right in front of them.  Her quick reactions averted a disaster that could have led to their serious injury or worse.

After the smoke cleared from the fireworks malfunction and we found out everyone was all right, and later when I heard of my daughter and wife’s close call with the moose, I breathed a sigh of relief and uttered a silent “thank you” to the Universe that our family was intact, safe and sound.  In both cases, it could so easily have been otherwise.

Close calls and near misses remind us of how precious, and how precarious, our lives are.  And gratitude is the appropriate response to these reminders.  It doesn’t matter to whom or what you pray your prayer of thanksgiving, or that you even call it a prayer at all.  Whether or not you believe that it is “God’s will” that you or a loved one avoided tipping over into the abyss, or that it was fate, or plain, old dumb luck, we can’t help but give thanks that we and our loved ones are here to greet another sunrise.

The writer Jane Kenyon expresses this sentiment in her poem “Otherwise.”

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birchwood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

On the Fourth of July it could so easily have been otherwise.  Someday it will be so, for me and mine, and for you and yours.  For all the days until it is, let us experience and express our gratitude.





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