Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Man Cave: Our Memorial Day Service Project

Rendering service to others is an important part of any well-lived life. In fact, I listed it as one of the Top 10 Chores every man should do at least once a year. As our children were growing up Kathy and I made service an important part of our family "culture". Of all the service projects we have done, the most memorable one happened on Memorial Day.

I have never been to Arlington National Cemetery, but I don't see how it could be any more beautiful or reverent than Tahoma National Cemetery in Maple Valley, WA. This is where Kathy's father is buried. It is a quiet place surrounded by whispering evergreens and watched over by an ever-vigilant Mt. Rainier. Every year on Memorial Day a small American flag is placed at each stone, and a row of flags is erected along the main drive. It brings a lump to your throat and your heart swells with pride to see it.

Being located in the Pacific Northwest, where rain and cool temperatures are the norm, moss and mildew accumulating on the white gravestones is an ongoing concern at Tahoma. As part of their preparations for Memorial Day each year the cemetery asks the public for assistanct in scrubbing the stones to keep them clean and white. Several years ago our family volunteered to do this, and it was an absolutely humbling, moving experience.

They equipped us with yellow rubber gloves, sponges, and a bucket, and graciously allowed us to start with Kathy's father's stone, and proceed outward from there. We began scrubbing, talking as we worked. The differing pace and direction of our work gradually carried us away from one another, and soon our conversations dissolved into silence. We each became lost in our thoughts, and the work we were doing.

Usually when we picture places like Arlington or Tahoma we envision fields of identical gravestones; rows and rows of polished sameness. A collective monument to the men and women who have served our country. But as I worked my way down those rows, kneeling before each gravestone, reading the name engraved upon it, literally embracing it as I worked, I began to think of the people resting there as individuals. Each one had sacrificed in their own way to serve others.

As I pondered this new revelation it occurred to me how many great and wonderful things in this world have come about not by brute force or threat of violence, but by individuals each doing what they can to serve others and make the world a better place. It made me wonder what current problems could be solved if we each resolved today to do some simple, good thing. I know that sounds a little trippy-hippie-flowerchild, but sometimes I think those crazy, nutty, enobling thoughts are part of what makes serving others so important. That, and the perspective it gives us.

To this day, when I see those white rows of polished sameness I think of them not as some nameless whole, but as individuals, united in their desire to serve their country and their fellow man.

God bless them.

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