Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend


The dogs urgently awakened me early this morning, so I took them out for a short walk. What a beautiful day here in western New Jersey, up on a hill in rural Hunterdon County, near the shores of the Delaware River.

Having stepped into a little wooded area across the way, one of the boys was permitted to take a short walk off the leash. Shhhhh . . . don't tell! In New Jersey, it's a technical violation, you know.

He's a fox hound. And he used to be the fastest boy in town, along with having the baying voice of a canine Pavarotti.

However, now in his early teens (the human kind) he stays pretty close to the bowl. Oh, the voice is still there. Believe me! But the wander lust, that scent-driven intensity of the hound at full throttle, has abated just a bit. Sometimes, he will actually come to me when I call him. And promptly, too.

So, he was sniffing around scratching the ground taking care of his morning business when I was given the whimpering "alert" by one of the others. I looked up, and no more than 50 feet away from us was a mid-sized doe. Pretty as could be, she was haltingly curious about us, alternately inching toward us, then stopping and staring, and then gingerly stepping in our direction again, glancing down with each step at the branch strewn and leafy ground.

In animal and human terms, it was an absurd moment . . . almost as if her odd curiosity was being driven by some unseen hand. It couldn't last.

I guess picking up on the peculiarity of the moment, I matter-of-factly turned and told the youngest one -- who had voiced the initial whimpering alert -- that we were not going to give chase, and that he should just let her be.

Normally, comments like that are utterly futile gestures, especially when it comes to him, just as they were for the older boy a few years ago. But today he seemed to understand. Oh, he whined and yipped a little bit. But he didn't launch into his usual full voice when some foreigner, some stranger suddenly intrudes into our little world. The deer hesitated. Then, she finally seemed to come to her senses. She blinked her eyes, and they flashed, reflecting that clear moment of recognition. "These are not friendlies," her eyes seemed to say. And then she quickly turned to scurry away.

It was a moment . . . just a moment. And for some reason that I will never understand, all of the key actors had independently chosen not to engage. That was it. Our group happily turned and we headed for home. It was time for breakfast.

Life is good.

We quietly walked back through the cemetery, with flags fluttering here and there in respectful recognition of all those brave souls who served this wonderful nation, each one back in their day.

Some of them fell while serving. Others returned home to live out their lives in their own measure. But almost every single one of them, on at least one occasion, experienced a brief moment when they knew their very life was on the line for something other than just for themselves. Many of them experienced those moments more than once. Some paid a very harsh price, either physically or otherwise. And some are still paying that price. A few made what we call the ultimate sacrifice. Most, however, thankfully returned to rejoin us. It is those fallen that we honor on Memorial Day.

Should you come across a veteran this weekend, this lovely Memorial Day weekend, please take a second to thank him or her for their service on our behalf.

I know. It's not Veteran's Day. Come Monday, it will be Memorial Day. We used to call it Decoration Day, and it used to be on May 30th, no matter what day of the week it fell on. The idea, which began right after the Civil War, was to remember the fallen -- those who gave their lives while serving on our behalf.

But please trust me on this one. Find a veteran and tell him or tell her that you appreciate their sacrifice, and that you are thinking of those who gave their lives in the service of our nation. And please, do it especially if you know, or if you should happen to come across a veteran who is having a tough time of it. What the heck, you could visit a veteran's hospital and talk to a few of them, no?

Just put your hand on their shoulder, look 'em right in the eye and say, "Thank you for serving our country." And tell them that this Memorial Day you'll be thinking of those who lost their lives while serving our nation.

It won't feel odd, or absurd as some moments do. It will feel right. I promise you that the memory of that moment will not be lost on them, or on you . . . ever.

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