The sun was rising through the clouds, shining golden on Quincy Bay and I felt compelled to take a walk. I strolled along and decided to take a turn down to Pine Island Salt Marsh.
Almost always, walking down the overgrown trail, tall marsh grasses around me, I am reminded of the African bush. I confess I'm feeling particularly nostalgic today too because I have to make another trip to the airport tonight to say goodbye to my Zulu professor -- her friendship has meant SO much to me these past few years. Absorbed in these thoughts and the anticipation of my own upcoming visit back to Africa, I noticed movement ahead of me. I froze. Sometimes on the weekends people have parties in the marsh, littering it with beer cans and cigarette stubs. I didn't think anyone would really be doing that on Memorial Day morning, but I proceeded a little more slowly just the same.
The trail turns and going over a slight rise, it gives way to a wide clearing containing an old veterans’ cemetery. As I drew nearer, I noticed a man standing in the cemetery. I didn't want to approach too closely, so I kept left and skirted around the clearing, watching him.
In full uniform, this veteran had carefully placed his officer's hat atop the stone monument with an inscription identifying the cemetery. A ceremonial sword was leaning carefully against a bush to the side of the monument. He stood to attention and then took hold of the ropes on the flagpole, lowering the flag. As I continued to watch, he stood there some moments, holding it at half-mast. He then raised the flag for a brief moment, before lowering it again and pausing once more. He repeated this several more times and I can only imagine that he must have been honoring, in his own private way, friends or brothers lost in battles past, or perhaps it was in honor of those comrades at rest, seemingly forgotten by the rest of the world tucked away in this sleepy, wooded cemetery.
I felt like an intruder as I stood there, watching this touching and very intimate scene. And my attitude began to shift....let me explain.
I confess, I've been rather ambivalent when it comes to American patriotism.
Why, you ask? Well... it's that whole missionary kid thing. Divided loyalties, I suppose. Not that I'm against America or anything, but I've never ever really felt completely American -- there is a side of me that is fiercely loyal to Africa and yes, I confess in the past I was even a little skeptical about America and what I consider its materialistic tendencies. But, as I stood there, I could not help but feel deeply moved and proud to be an American too, giving thanks for all of those who have so selflessly given their lives so America can enjoy the comfortable life it has -- and it is, BELIEVE ME!!!
We talk of economic hardships here these days.... but sorry folks, you have NO concept of hardship!! I've seen what a country looks like coming out of civil war, on its knees in complete and utter shambles. The US was that way too, once upon a time long, long ago. But it's because of the sacrifices of those back then -- and those today -- that we enjoy the many blessings and privileges that we have now.
So if like me, Memorial Day for you has been just a holiday -- a time for cook-outs or sleeping in -- I hope (if you managed to read all of this) that you will pause for even just a moment to think about those who sacrificed so that we can live here safely and comfortably.