Memorial Day Weekend 2012 and what it conjures up…
1. Memories of living in Crystal City and taking my camera over to Arlington Cemetery to photograph the thousands of flags posted by the graves and feeling overwhelming gratitude for the soldiers who served the United States with such courage and valor. I couldn’t believe the sea of red, white, and blue flags waving in the humid breeze of the nation’s capital. “And this is where I live,” I kept thinking.
2. Going camping at Fairfax Lake Park with my family and camping next to Rolling Thunder bikers. Turns out they were nicer, friendlier, and quieter than the Christian Bible group camping on the other side of us.
3. Listening to Ronald Reagan in 1982 speak in Arlington National Cemetery about the many heroes buried in the cemetery that represented America’s best. He said, “In America’s cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. In 1863, when he dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, Abraham Lincoln noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage — not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words.”
The “inadequacy of words.”
When it comes to commemorating those who gave their last full measure of devotion, Reagan was exactly right — there is an inadequacy of words to express our gratitude.
4. I think of the Challenger astronauts on Memorial Day because they were buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with many of the other national heroes. I was working in the House of Representatives watching the space shuttle Challenger on television as it blasted off into space. Then in horror, I watched it explode. I immediately thought of my first boss, Senator Jake Garn, an astronaut himself and how heartbreaking that must have been for him. He knew those astronauts. Then I thought of being at Cape Canaveral watching the space shuttle Discovery soar into the air and felt part of the excitement and anticipation of everyone on the ground watching. I remember standing near John Travolta and seeing his eyes light up with childlike wonder as Discovery disappeared from sight. How could the families and friends and onlookers cope with what they saw after Challenger’s blast off? It was a an awful day. But like always, American paid tribute to them and the country came together to both mourn and heal.
5. I think of my friend Keri whose husband Rich served two tours of duty in Iraq. She became the caretaker of all the women and families left alone at Fort Campbell when all the men were deployed after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. After thinking, “Why me?” she quickly changed to the wiser question, “Why not me?” While we remember the soldiers who fight for us, we have to remember the families whose sacrifices too are monumental.
6. I also can’t help but think of 9/11 — a day that will forever be memorialized on any day of national significance. Instead of focusing on the terror, destruction, and utter heartbreak, I try to think of the U.S. flags springing up everywhere, the outpouring of love and support and national unity. I think of walking through the neighborhood putting flags in the ground by every mailbox. I think of crying unexpectedly at the stoplight when I heard the song “I’m Proud to be an American.” I remember talking to my burly brother, the brick mason, who said he heard about it on his work radio. Then he and the other workers took an early lunch. He sat on the curb and opened his lunchbox and broke down sobbing.
7. On a happier note, I think of being at the beach, watching the flag wave on our deck, hearing the ocean waves in the distance, and listening to the happy sounds of a houseful of people enjoying the sublime and often overlooked gifts of peace and freedom.