Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

"It's a time to remember the Veterinarians"*

My Dad is buried at the National Cemetery in Jacksonville. It has become a kind of sanctuary for me. I love to go and sit at the base of my father/mother's headstone. I cry [of course]. I run my hands of the granite feeling each letter of their names. And I look around me at all the names of people who have served our country. Just to the right of Dad's grace, the marker says, "I did my best." As epitaphs go, I'd say that one is short, sweet and to the point.

I did my best. If at the end of the last day each of us can look at our Creator and say, I did my best, then I believe that is a life well-lived. Maybe it's not a life without regret, or sorrow, or pain, but undoubtedly one of truth.

On Saturday morning I joined Boy Scouts from Pack 541 and some attending adults in placing a small flag on each grave in a Memorial Day tribute. Before we actually began the work, a retired Marine who was heading up the project gave a short speech on what Memorial Day is all about. High on Krispy Cream donuts and a little bored from a previous speech on the same subject the boys were eager to get on with the job. I haven't met an 8 year old boy yet who likes to sit in the sun and listen to speeches. A few listened. A few drew pictures in the dirt with a stick. A few tapped their feet. Yet each was surprisingly aware and respectful of the task at hand.

Nothing but the sound of a chain hitting the flag pole could be heard when the boys were asked who knew what Memorial Day was all about. The group leader who had just finished his inspired testimony, must have felt defeated! Come on, boys! he cried. We just talked about this! Finally a shy hand shot up and when asked to speak, said in a quiet yet confident voice, "it's a time to remember all the veterinarians." OMG. Veterinarians! Sometimes kids say the darndest things! I almost tinkled I got so tickled.

After the speeches there was more waiting. I missed the Pledge of Allegiance under the huge U.S. flag (and smaller POW/MIA flag) that stand guard at the entrance of the cemetery. I'd walked over for some quiet time with Mom and Dad. Then it was time ...

[Perhaps not as precise as at Arlington National, but placed with great respect.]

For more instructions.
  • To mark where the flag should go, center your foot against the stone and place the flag at your toes.
  • Push the flags all the way into the ground - not just into the thick grass.
  • Be respectful.
  • Say Thank you.
Finally the Scouts were off, leaving adult "Slow down! Don't run! It's not a race!" warnings behind them. Young boys in blue uniforms placing flags on the graves of big boys/girls who had worn the uniform of their country so the little boys could run free. There was a synchronicity in it all that made my heart swell - in gratitude. My prayer is that one day these children (and their children's children) might know how it feels to "serve" but won't have to step foot on a battlefield.

[Following the rules]

While we were waiting, I overheard a conversation that made me think perhaps the world would be a better place if children could be the teachers and adults the students. If that were the case brotherly love and world peace might just have a chance. One of the boys had vitiligo (that skin condition where you lose the pigment so you are left with smooth white patches of skin) on his legs. He was wearing shorts so it was pretty hard to hide if he wanted to which I guess he didn't because he was wearing shorts. The boy on his left said, "hey, you've got two different colors of skin." To which the young lad nodded. Then the boy on his right, said "you are so special." And then there was a short group hug. No teasing. No snickering. Just acknowledgement and acceptance of their differences.

We hear so much about kids bullying one another these days. One little physical defect, learning disability, or extra pound and a child can be subjected to the meanest of words. If you ask me, it's down right cruel. I think that's why I was so taken by this brief but heartfelt conversation. I pulled my rather dated by still wearable Girl Scout smile from my pocket and thought to myself, yes indeed, you ARE special. Each one of you. May you always be aware of just how special you are.

Wishing for you time spent with a child,
Merry ME

*P.S. You know, remembering the veterinarians might not be that far off the mark. Along with the service dogs who also put their lives on the line and work under some pretty strenuous conditions.

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