Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Where Honor Lives

July 4th, in our nation, is a special day.

We celebrate freedom.  Families gather, we eat food that tastes yummy but probably isn't so good for us, we spend time laughing and running barefoot through the yard.  Together.  Then we gather to watch various substances that have been crammed into little vessels get flung into the air where they explode in bursts of color and light.

And it's all very nice.

But it's not what is inside me on this day.  Today I don't think about exuberant displays of freedom.  I don't think about living in a country that has so many little "perks" that we are forced to complain about the little stuff because the "big stuff" just isn't a present problem here. 

I think about honor.

In my head, I think about Independence Day when I was maybe ten or twelve.  My best friend and I were with my grandparents on their boat, watching the fireworks display surrounded by other boats as we floated in the Mississippi.  The light and sound from the fireworks was bouncing off the bluffs that surrounded us.  It was loud and bright and you could feel the energy in the air.  Excitement and exhilaration.

I looked down from my perch, with my legs dangling high above the water and my arms resting on the rail around the roof of the boat.  There was a small bass boat tied to our boat - nobody we knew.  But for the first time in the hours we'd spent so close together, I looked at them.  A young boy - maybe five years old.  His little life jacket stood out against the dark floor of the boat where he sat, leaning on the legs of an older man.  He was probably seventy, maybe more.  He wore a navy blue shirt and his gray hair was thinning.  His face had "the look" - you know, the expression that says "I love my life, I love who I am with, and this moment is beautiful" at the same time it says "I have seen and heard and lived through things most of the world can't even imagine.  I have seen the darkest parts of the world."  And I could see in his eyes, that the darkness he had seen was what let him really appreciate the light around him now.

Usually, after the pyrotechnics are completed, it is a rush to get every boat started and compete to be the first to leave that stretch of river.  But before that rush starts, there is always about two minutes of silence, where people are waiting to see if it is really over.  And that night, the silence was pierced after about thirty seconds.  Somewhere in the darkness, on a boat or perhaps standing somewhere on shore, two people had and played bagpipes.  The familiar sound of our national anthem was almost haunting as it rolled and echoed across the water.  Most people silently stayed where they were; unsure whether they should respond or not.  But the old man in the boat next to ours?  He stood tall and straight, his hand raised in a sharp solute, eyes fixed on the flag displayed on the front of our boat.  In that moment, I saw honor alive and well in him.  But it doesn't end there.  The small boy was almost asleep in the bottom of the boat.  He watched the man stand, watched him solute, and struggled to his feet.  He did his best to emulate the man he clearly admired; feet together, knobby little-boy knees straight, shoulders back, and his best attempt at a solute. 

As the anthem faded away, some people started to move.  And then slowly, softly, the first strains of Amazing Grace floated through the darkness.  The man continued staring at our flag as tears rolled down his face.  The young boy looked up at him, and then took his hand.

"Gwampah, I wuv you.  I wepect you.  Fank you for pwotecting us.  I wemembew.  And I wemembew yoah fwends too.  I won't evah fowget."

And that, my friends, is where honor lives.  In the heart of the child who saw, recognized, and embraced that which was worth honoring.

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