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Memorial Day: Lessons from a 5K

Monday, May 25, 2015

This blog is long, r e a l l y long, get a cup of coffee or tea and settle in. I hope you will find it worth the time.

Happy Memorial Day!

"Happy"? That is a strange greeting for a day that is meant to honor the people who have died defending our country, rights, freedom ....... our way of life. I know, as do you, that for countless thousands of families, today is a day of sadness, pain, grief that I cannot imagine, and at times, undoubtedly a sense of injustice that cannot be satisfied. I have often wondered about that greeting. On the one hand it seems appropriate and on the other hand it seems so very wrong.

My sister (LJCANNON) somehow found an opportunity to walk in memory of America's fallen soldiers. How she finds these things, I will never know, but I am glad she did. After seeing her invitation to join her in the challenge, I looked into it.

A group called "wear blue" was asking for volunteers to walk in honor of service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberty. Their goal was to get 10,000 people all wearing blue and all walking to honor and remember these special soldiers. You could walk any distance you wanted to commit to do, just wear blue while doing it and do it today.

After you join the effort, there is a page you are asked to fill out that asks a few questions about how much you are committing to do and why. One of those questions was "how far are you committing to walk/run and how did you choose that distance. I committed to walk a 5K and for my reason, I said that 5K was my maximum. It is the farthest I have walked at any one time. I was committing to walk my "all" in honor of those who gave their all.

I decided to walk my 5K this morning in a local cemetery while the American Legion members placed flags on the graves of veterans who have passed on, either in the line of duty or after returning home. It is a beautifully symbolic tradition that I have been honored to watch for several years now.

Each Memorial Day, way before the crowds have gotten up and started preparing to come to the service, these men meet at the cemetery to honor their "brothers". They are tall, short, gray headed or salt and pepper, have mobility issues, or not, some are grumpy, some are so much fun, some are rugged and unkempt, others are dapper and sophisticated, they are ALL gentlemen and come together with a single, solemn purpose.

They stand, mostly silent (a few last minute instructions are sometimes given) at the back of a pickup as the boxes of flags are opened and each man is given an armload to take and place in the flag holders that mark the graves of their fellow soldiers.

The men each go a different way to canvas the entire cemetery and make sure they do not miss a single soldier. This job is done silently for the most part as each one is in an area by himself. There is the occasional request for extra flags, or greeting as the areas they are "working" overlap. I have seen these men go about the task many different ways. Sometimes they place the flag and walk on without any outward sign of what is going on inside. Other times, they might give the flag an extra pat before they walk on, pause for a moment that is just theirs as they look at the grave, offer a little maintenance on a flag holder that leans just a little too much to suit them, brush some dust away, or set a misplaced decoration back up the way it should be. It is definitely a reverent time.

I chose to walk my 5K here, in this setting, as it seemed somehow very appropriate, and, I hoped, could lead to some insight on the day, its meaning, and my duty. It certainly did that!

As I began the walk and turned my focus to the reason for the day, my first thought was on the selfless service represented by each of these lives. It occurred to me that by spending some time allowing my "normal" schedule to be interrupted to do something (anything) to focus on them, I was focusing on someone else, concentrating on the good in others, putting my life aside, just for a bit, in order to consciously focus on what is good, decent, heroic, and inspiring in someone else. I was, on a smaller scale, for at least that moment, participating in the same selfless service these soldiers had. Could that be the reason for the lightness of my steps??

As I continued walking, I was struck by how hard it would be for the men putting the flags out if the flag holders were not there. The grave of each veteran was marked with a small, discreet, easily overlooked holder that was there to put the flag in. The holder in the right hand corner of this picture

is not the only difference between the grave of a veteran and a grave that need not have a flag. As small as it is, it is the easiest difference to spot and spot quickly. If not for that aide, the men putting out the flags would have to stop and read the stones to see if there was mention of a military service. Even then, it could be a veteran whose family simply did not choose to reflect that on the stone.

As I worked to combine the first observation of selfless service with this observation, I found the next part of my lesson. The men and women I was here to honor gave selflessly, as were the men putting out the flags, BEFORE they knew me, or the person lying in that grave personally. They gave without knowing my name, my birth date, or if I had any meritorious quality. They gave without asking, without reading the information, without having to "know" me. If I am to truly honor their sacrifice, should I not give the same way? Shouldn't my focus be on each of the people I walk past each day? Should I not be committed to noticing the smallest sign of worthiness and honoring it?

Somehow, this line of thinking got me past the similarity of some of the stones and on to noticing the individuality displayed on others.

What do you want to bet that this guy loved horses and had a favorite saying about them?

Don't you figure this is the grave of a female with a fondness for butterflies or perhaps these colors?

This child died young, way too young, and grandpa is hurting

I know what this one liked to do!

Do I know that each of the stories I came up with are true? Of course not! But I can tell, FOR CERTAIN, that each of these people were special to different people, in different ways, and for different reasons.

My thoughts turned to the families left behind by soldiers killed in the line of duty, to the families who will never be the same because their soldier was permanently disabled. I tried, in vain, to even come close to understanding the pain and loss I would feel if it were my child, or my spouse that had been taken. The closest I could come was the idea that if it were MY child that died, I would want to KNOW that he died for a reason, that if he gave up his life, if I would never again be able to tell him that I loved him, that it was for a greater good. That there was something to show for it. Which finally, as I neared the end of my walk, brought me full circle back to the idea of selfless service.

If the soldiers are to be honored, if their deaths are going to be for a greater good, then it is up to me (and you) to make this world the kind of world they died to achieve. If their families are going to be able to experience even the smallest bit of justice, then they have to be offered the kind of life their soldier died to provide for them.

In that world, we must each have a selfless focus. We must commit to pay attention to the little things. We have to view each person we walk past as a potential hero until we can find that quality in them that IS commendable and worthy. We must stop trying to make everyone and everything a carbon copy of our self and our beliefs and celebrate the individuality that makes us each so special. We have to stop already with the I, I, I, and replace it with you, they, we. We have to put others FIRST and know that as we do, we will be taken care of also because someone ELSE is putting us first.

If each of us gives our ALL, this type of world is totally possible. So, how do we measure "all". Can we measure it, track it, chart it, or record it? Will you look different to me when you have given your all? Will I look different when I have given mine? Will "all" be the same for you as it is for me? Absolutely not, and that is okay. I won't know everything you do, YOU will and you won't need to keep track to know it.

As if to drive this final point home, I noticed that the Runkeeper app on my phone and the Vivofit watch that I wear had each recorded a different distance and number of steps. The Vivofit was showing a little more than a mile over what Runkeeper was showing. I had only barely noticed this, when my phone died without warning. Frustrated that now I had only a questionable source, at best, to use to tell me when I reached 3.1 miles, I began trying madly to calculate the difference between the two devices. It finally dawned on me to check in with ME! How did I feel? Was I done? Could I go further? To my surprise, I felt fine. I knew without a doubt that I had a good deal more to give. I kept walking. Finally as I was coming up one of the roads that joins the parking area, I knew that my legs, my hip and my knees had had enough. I knew that when I got to the car this time, I was stopping. Amazingly enough, as I got to the parking area I saw that dad had pulled out of his parking spot and onto the road to head out and was just waiting. Each of the last 2 times I had passed him, he had been sitting in the car, still in the parking place. It was definitely time to go.

So, thank you for listening, for reading to the end of what is an extremely long blog even for me. In closing, it is with a new understanding of my responsibility to pay it forward, that I wish each and every one of you a very

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