During a recent visit to my wife’s family I had the pleasure of taking in a bit of Americana, a small town Memorial Day Parade. We sat on the street curb with hundreds of other residents of the small town as the pageantry passed us by. Marching bands, old cars, firemen and beaming children marched down the middle of the road taking time to wave and acknowledge the people who had come out to celebrate with them.
About half way through the parade, a group of elderly men were driven past my family. On the side of their cars was this sign, “World War 2 veterans”. That in itself was not all that unusual. It was a Memorial Day parade after all. What was shocking to me was the emotional response that both my wife and eye had as these brave men passed us. We both choked up and found ourselves teary-eyed.
This sudden rush of thoughts began to fill my mind. I remember stories my dad told me of an Uncle I never met. Stories of how he was with the troops that liberated several concentration camps and stories of the man that returned from war. A man who would stay up late into the night weeping on his mother’s lap as she tried to drive the horror that had been imprinted on his soul. My father has told me his brother never really made it home.
Tom Brokaw called them the greatest generation. They fought what many will say is the last war where moral ambiguity was never questioned. There was a very real evil and it had to be eliminated so that the world could be made safe. So as the cars with these elderly vets passed by, something just clicked. If it weren’t for men like these, perhaps my family wouldn’t be sitting on the street on a beautiful Monday enjoying a parade.
I began to see something that morning I will never forget. Behind those brave men came group after group: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, Firemen, and soldiers from many other conflicts that we as a nation have fought in. This incredible thought hit me. This is why America is great. We celebrate sacrifice.
To sacrifice has been a part of this nation since the first settlers crossed hazardous oceans to come to start lives in a land where they had no idea what awaited them. We sacrifice our time to coach sports teams for kids and lead scout troops. We sacrifice our money when disasters happen and our families sometimes sacrifice us as we rush to be on the ground to help. We sacrifice our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in distant lands fighting so our world can be just a little bit safer. We sacrifice sleep working multiple jobs so that our children can know security or maybe the hope of a better future as they pursue the first college degree in a family.
We know sacrifice. I’m not saying that our country is alone in this. Many others have some of the same struggles. I think what makes us unique is how we celebrate the sacrifice. Because we are a nation that honors those who have given, the cycle of sacrifice is passed from generation to generation. To honor those around us who take on extra burdens so that someone else’s load is a little lighter is, in my opinion, the sign of a society that still has more to give.
I have heard the drum beat of how bad America is. I’m not ignorant of its faults and America does have many problems, but it also has a soul that keeps me hopeful that God’s hand is still with us. In the void created by all the horrible things that happen in this country still beats the heart of giving people.
We are hurting right now as a nation. Unemployment is still high. People are still losing their homes. The gap between those who have and those who have not is larger than ever but I still have hope. We are a nation of heroes. So many will never be known because their sacrifices happen off the screen of a television or away from the pages of a newspaper but never mistake – they are heroes.
It’s this inner character of America that I found myself examining on that street curb Memorial Day. This strength allows us to be collectively larger than any of our individual parts. To reach across the boundaries of race, ethnicity or gender to help others is an amazing gift God has put in us.
I ask you to consider today the many who sacrifice for you. We are not islands. We are connected as sons and daughters of Adam. Find someone who has sacrificed for you and celebrate them. When we honor our heroes we give the greatest reward for the sacrifice….our gratitude.