I’ve just driven the seven miles into Kalispell to the one store that carries my favorite flavor of ice cream. Fireworks are going off from one end of the Flathead Valley to the other—bright bursts and explosions popping nonstop in all directions.

When I was little, my older brother and sisters would take me to see the fireworks in Santa Rosa. It was the late 60s. We ate popcorn and cotton candy and smoothly wove our way through the loud-talking crowd. My sisters held tightly to my tiny hands, knowing my mother would never recover if they lost me.

When the fireworks started, they filled the sky in perfect symmetry, as big as the universe. My brother threw me up on his shoulders, and I watched with my head thrown back and my sticky mouth hanging wide open.

Later, when my brother and sisters were grown and gone, I begged my mom to take me to see the fireworks on the 4th of July. My brother had been drafted to Vietnam. My sisters were studying or working abroad.

My mom was crippled. Taking a five-year-old down the mountain and setting her loose to see the fireworks was unthinkable, so she drove me to the crest of one of the foothills overlooking Santa Rosa, and we waited for the show to begin. I was so excited. I expected the fireworks to fill up my sky as always.

Instead, bursts of tiny, symmetrical sparks began popping in the valley far below—bubbles of light as big as the universe for the people down in the valley but barely an inch wide to me. My perspective changed on everything.

Large and small are such relative measures. Nothing seems larger and more significant than a red Walgreens sign in the middle of the night when your husband’s blood pressure is high and he’s out of his medication. Nothing seems smaller than your next paycheck when your transmission has just gone out and you’re supposed to be driving to California for a wedding.

I’m sitting in the grocery store parking lot, listening to nonstop pops and explosions all around me. In my mind are visions from the top of a small mountain of tiny fireworks in the valley far below. And I’m thinking that we often get it wrong when it comes to defining what is large and small.

July 4, 2018