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Max Roytenberg

Thunder and Lightning In The Sky

by Max Roytenberg, July 2014 Vancouver, Canada.


I share the corner of the city I inhabit with a multitude of others. I am not talking about the people who live in the habitations around me, but those who come from other parts of the metropolis. I live close to one of the beautiful beaches in this city and very close to one of the largest city-parks in the country, with many gigantic trees that are hundreds of years old. The beaches, particularly, attract thousands of visitors daily during the summer months. It seems like the whole population of the city prefers to spend its spare time in the area where we have chosen to live. Of course, this is no surprise-we chose the area because we ourselves found it so desirable. So daily, the citizen’s of this metropolis descend on our particular area, my own private corner of the world, and occupy its streets, its beaches and its restaurants.



Every day, when we take our walk along the sea wall, given a sunny day, the beaches are swarming, even at an early hour, with people of every description. In the restaurants on the main streets around us, prolific in number, and of every description and flavour, the attractiveness of the area ensures they are chock-ful of eager customers. Although I am generous to a fault, I am somewhat proprietary in attitude in this respect, and feel a little resentful, sometimes, that these strangers are insisting in filling up so much of our space. After all, we have been here almost a month, and we should have some rights of occupation. I will overlook the fact that I enjoy very much the continuous parade of beautiful bodies I am exposed to, that are attracted to the beach. I must avert my eyes. Too much attention given to these passing fancies can have grave consequences for this very-much-married man.  


Today in Vancouver was the first day of a fireworks competition. The U.S. was the first to present their offering, with France and Japan to follow. Suddenly, there were hundreds of thousands of people on English Bay and the surrounding beaches, gathered to watch the spectacle being presented on a barge docked a few hundred yards off the beach. We followed the crowd and found a precious space from which to view the coming extravaganza. I have never seen so many people gathered together in one place. The size of the crowd was somewhat frightening to me in its dimensions. Things so large can be a danger unto themselves when, and if, things go wrong. The spectacle of massed human beings was as impressive to me as the promise of what we had gathered on the beach to see.


When the sun set, and as the twilight deepened, a few warning rockets were fired into the air from the barge. The ceaseless movement of people subsided and the crowd settled down to watch. Then the barrage began. It is almost impossible to describe the tapestry of multi-coloured light that was emblazoned on the deepening-dark background of the sky before the approving multitudes. On and on, one panorama after another was painted against the sky in the contrasting colours of the rainbow, gold, red, blue, green and brilliant diamond-like white. The different patterns, drawn in fire, shafts of light straight up, at an angle, in a curve, shot into the sky in every colour imaginable. All the while rosettes in all the sizes of a circle appeared, disappeared, and superimposed themselves again and again on the many Vesuvius-like eruptions appearing from below.


For almost half an hour, accompanied by roars of sound, a crackling noise and sharp explosive reports, the images of light appeared before us in the sky. The noise, at times, brought pain to my ears. Surely some of those onlookers must have worried about the effects on their hearing. I know I did. There were continuous reactions, shouts, screams, whistles and applause, from those gathered on the beach, at each fresh onslaught of sound and light that went on and on without pause.


The show climaxed with such an array that the whole sky in front of us was a sheet of white light that persisted for almost a whole minute. It was like a waterfall of diamonds flowing into the sea. The crowd was stunned and then broke into applause and shouts of approval.


Too soon, it was all over. By this time the night had fully fallen. The massed crowd bestirred itself, and like a giant animal, and with a continuous babble of voices, streamed from the beach and onto the surrounding streets, filling the open spaces to capacity. In the dark, under the trees lining the streets, the whole area we passed through was like a cavern in which was being broadcast unceasing noise. In the reflections from the sparse street lighting, the crowd seemed like one living organism, all its tentacles writhing and in motion, in the diffused light in the tree-shrouded avenue, as it crept through the dark all around me.


The gabble of voices provided a continuous accompaniment; we heard snatches of conversation telling intimate tales. I felt totally isolated, an intruder in private worlds, as we walked along our separate paths. The segmented creature of which we were a unit, made its way down the street, slowly and gradually divesting of its parts. We attained our own location and ascended to our cubbyhole and watched from there, like secret observers, as, with time, the animal bled off its pseudopodia. Soon, the diminishing cohorts, the noise of their passing gradually dying away, returned our refuge to silence and personal privacy. We revelled in regaining the mastery of our space, peering out from the dark lookout high above the deserted streets.


Recalling the sound and light, the roars of sound and explosion, greeted so enthusiastically by the crowd, I could not dismiss from my mind how such beautiful displays, in areas beset by war and conflict, would have impacted a population subjected to the death and destruction occasioned by the explosions accompanying the presentation. The shouts and screams of joy would be converted to those of pain and horror. The cries of approval would be exchanged for those of helpless protest. Knowing what was going on around the world at this very moment, I could not banish these uninvited images from my mind as I was watching this peaceful celebration of light.


As for so many things in our lives, the instruments we create can be used for good or evil in our human hands, as we, god-like, make our own thunder and lightning in the sky.


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