Two nearly simultaneous events on New Year’s Eve illustrated the importance of community to individual happiness — or lack thereof.
It was our final night on vacation at the beach. My daughter and granddaughter had to be at the airport at 4 AM for a 6 AM flight back home. My husband also had to get up at 2:30 to drive them there. None of us had any intention of staying up till midnight. We shared our resolutions at dinner, lit a few sparklers, and went to bed.
But not to sleep. The vacation revelers across the street had their own plans: fireworks, and lots of them. Mind you, this was in a quiet residential neighborhood, with houses packed closely together. Our rental house had multiple reminders to please be respectful and keep noise down after 9 PM. No rational person could have believed this was a good place to launch massive fireworks.
Sure, on New Year’s Eve, there are likely to be a handful of fireworks in any neighborhood. Not like this, though. Our temporary neighbors had brought a wide variety of fireworks including large industrial ones — the kind crowds oooh and ah at during municipal displays, with spectators safely distant from the explosives. Our beach neighbors seemed to think launching fireworks from the middle of a small public street was safe enough. They began shooting fireworks around 8:00. We were outside with our sparklers, and the first massive boom literally made me scream. Our next door neighbors, who had a six month old baby, came running out to report that fireworks debris had fallen into their backyard swimming pool. The neighbors closest to them called out, “That’s not appropriate!” The fireworks were beautiful, but LOUD. And dangerous!
Another neighbor, though, egged them on. “I live here!” we heard him shout. Maybe because so many tourists were upset, he loudly and enthusiastically cheered on those setting off the fireworks. Clearly, neither he nor the firework launchers cared about the surrounding community.
Because, at that moment, we were all in community. We ALL lived there for that night. It could have been joyous. Instead, there was a lot of unhappiness. I assume those shooting the fireworks found it to be a very pleasurable experience, but at the expense of everyone in nearby houses. Someone apparently called the police, who came cruising by within the half hour. There were multiple cars, or at least multiple loops right over the fireworks launching site. Even though the police didn’t stop, the fireworks did cease. For a bit.
We all went to bed. Then the fireworks started again, smaller ones at first before the frightening industrial booms — right outside our bedroom windows — once again lit up the night. The booms made it impossible to sleep. I finally called the police. I didn’t know it at the time, but my daughter also called the police. She watched them pull into the street at almost precisely midnight, as the firework shooters launched major and highly illegal fireworks skyward.
The next day, I read that the minimum fine for such activities was $500. Thus I believe that their self-centered, anti-community activities ultimately led to an unhappy night for them too.
At the same time, my daughter was getting devastating news from another community, the gymnastics studio where her daughter is a competitive gymnast. On New Years Eve, Jozef Safko, co-owner/coach/mentor/vital life force of that studio, died from Covid. He was only in his 50’s, with young children, athletic, still capable of doing back flips across the mat. He was kind and generous, and his death was heartbreaking news for hundreds of families.
Jozef and his wife Wendy were beloved by their gymnastics community, which immediately came together to support Wendy and the kids as much as possible. Brother David Steindl-Rast, one of the world’s leading gratitude experts, has said that we cannot be grateful for every situation but in every situation there is something to be grateful for. The GoFundMe set up for Jozef and Wendy reported that both of them were grateful for all the support they received. Donations of time, food, and money continue to pour in.
Community can not erase the pain. But for everyone involved, there is much comfort in the coming together. Community matters.
I know nothing about the individuals who shot off the fireworks. Perhaps they, too, are beloved members of their home communities. But we are always in community, whether we are home or not, whether we are aware of it or not.
A day after we drove through Virginia on our way back north, hundreds of vehicles on I-95 got trapped by a snow and ice storm and remained stranded for more than 20 hours. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) was one of those stuck in his car overnight in the frigid temperatures. He told the story of another family driving north from Florida with a big bag of oranges. In true community spirit, that family went vehicle to vehicle handing out oranges to whoever wanted one. Everyone was still cold, and still stuck — but what joy those oranges must have brought, to both the givers and the recipients!
Oranges or fireworks? Happiness or unhappiness for those with whom you’re in community? The choice is always there.