This is a coffee blog. Usually. Today I wanted to veer briefly off topic to share with you something profound that brought tears to my eyes.
I live in San Antonio and go to church in New Braunfels, a small bedroom community a short ride up Interstate 35. On any given Sunday morning it is typical to see police running speed traps catching people heading north to Austin, Dallas or points beyond. So I didn’t really think much of it when on an overpass bridge I saw three squad cars parallel parked with the officers standing down watching traffic pass. A little unorthodox a method for gauging speed, I thought, but still, no biggie. Then the next overpass came into view and this one had two parked ambulances, several police cars–lights on–and all the EMT’s and cops standing around, looking, waiting. Hmmm. At every subsequent freeway entrance I saw one or two police or highway patrol cars parked, each time with lights on. Each time no one caught in their snare. Just officers and public safety officials standing, waiting, watching.
On our exit off the freeway is when it all started to make sense. Because there on the overpass and across to the other side and lined up along the sides of the road were not just official vehicles but throngs of human beings, some waving flags, many dressed in military uniforms, all of them clearly gathered on this route to await some momentous parade of some sort.
It was only as our vehicle slowed to a stop as we exited the freeway that I realized that these people were indeed waiting to see something special. They must have been there to pay their last respects to the funeral motorcade of a fallen soldier as it passed by.
A frog quickly developed in my throat as I heard one of my children ask me why all those people were there with flags and dressed in red or white or blue (or all three). And as I tried to explain this phenomenon I could hear and feel my voice crack, break under that wetness of my words:
“We live in the greatest nation on the earth, kids. Maybe the greatest nation ever. And we live in a country where we are free to do or become anything we want. Sometimes soldiers go off to fight to help protect our right to have these freedoms and keep our nation great. And sometimes, when one of them dies, people come out for miles around to stand and wait by the roadside to do what is called ‘paying your respects’ to the one who died and to his family.”
As my kids sat silently and digested this scenario my thoughts went to the movie I had seen a few months earlier, Taking Chance, where pretty much this exact scene unfolded. I remember the same sad pride I felt watching that movie, just in thinking how awesome it is that people did something like that. But I also remember thinking something like, I can see this happening way out west [where the soldier in the movie was from] but not here in Texas, and certainly not in many other places in our country, where the military and military service are seen as provincial and an embarrassing relic of the past at best, and a barbaric burden on “peace lovers” at worst. And I remembered thinking, then as now, Have we really become so sophisticated and cool and multi-culturally sensitive that good old-fashioned patriotism and pride of place are out of style? Is that the new cultural norm for Americans? And I sighed a deep sigh and slowly rolled past the crowds toward our morning destination.
I consider myself quite a patriotic American. And so it was both saddening and invigorating to see this scene unfold this morning and that I could somehow be on the sidelined periphery of it. I just wanted to interject that little piece of my thoughtworld into the ether to say I don’t hate any other people or country or anything like that. But I definitely would never be found dead in the camp of those who feel we need to tour the world apologizing for being great or strong or culturally important or anything like that. Lead with humility, yes, but lead. Someone has to. I’m proud of the men and women who serve in our US armed forces, regardless of politics. They deserve my respect and honor for their sacrifices, at the very least. In life and in death.
Here’s the quick newslink that confirmed the procession as well as gave a bit more information about the soldier.
Thanks for your indulgence. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. (I do actually have some coffee stuff to discuss in the next day or two on this blog, so stay tuned.)