We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
May our country continue to uphold and live by these words, as powerful today as when they were composed in 1776.
Over Memorial Day weekend we visited my husband’s family in New York state. Early on Saturday morning, when we woke up in Spencerport, a picturesque village on the Eerie Canal, Kiko and I headed out for our first walk. My little dog was even more headstrong than usual. If I attempted to turn left, he was determined to go right. When I preferred right, he insisted on left. Occasionally his obstinance resulted in a dead stop, as he splayed his legs and I tugged, to no avail, on the leash. Our progress was slow and laborious. The constant battle of wills made it difficult to properly appreciate the gracious old homes of Spencerport. I was annoyed with Kiko, who clearly cares nothing for architecture, or for beauty in general. How disappointing. I tend, however irrationally, to expect more from him. And because I’d given in to his choices, we were heading in a direction that I didn’t intend. But up ahead, on South Union Street, I began to see the entrance to Fairfield Cemetery. We’d passed it yesterday driving in. To me, it looked inviting. Kiko evidently felt the same way. For the first time that morning, we were in agreement.
Except for the exuberant chirping of a great variety of birds, all was quiet. No sounds of mowing, cutting or leaf-blowing disturbed the serenity.
Many of the graves were marked with small American flags. I realized, with some chagrin, that I’d almost forgotten, at least momentarily, the significance of the long holiday weekend.
As Kiko and I wandered the shaded, grassy pathways between the rows of gravestones, I noticed that we now walked together in easy step. My stubborn dog had managed to bring me here, against my will, to this peaceful spot, to contemplate the cost of peace. I thought of the old poem of achingly sad remembrance, of poppies waving in Flanders fields, between the crosses, row on row. And of the vast and ever-growing expanse of white markers in Arlington Cemetery. Not long ago, passing by that hallowed ground on the way to Reagan Airport, we saw the solemn spectacle of a horse-drawn caisson bearing a flag-draped coffin.
Memorial Day reminds us to remember and honor the many lives lost in service to our country. Consider the teenagers, who, like my Uncle Bill, traded the drudgery of 1940s farm work for the unknown adventure of World War II. My Uncle returned from the war. Too many others did not. Think of the young people who drew a final breath in the swampy fields of Vietnam. Be grateful to those whose civic duty cost them their lives in the Gulf War, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in exotic locales most Americans would be hard-pressed to pronounce or locate on a map. Acknowledge the sacrifice of those who died fighting a shape-shifting, ill-defined enemy in our war on terror.
And may we give some thought to those who managed to evade death on far-flung battlefields, only to return home to find the challenge of readapting to civilian life unsurmountable. The deep wounds of war, mental, emotional, and physical, are near-impossible to comprehend for those who haven’t served. Some who fought in Vietnam returned to a society that seemed to regard them as the enemy. Let’s pray for those who survived the war but could not survive the trials of day-to-day life in the very towns they had once called home.
As Kiko and I walked back from the cemetery, we were reminded that the service and the sacrifice continue today. Along Union Street, every lamp post was decorated with a banner bearing the image and name of a current member of our armed forces. Let us not forget the dedication and bravery of such hometown heroes, whether we know them personally, or not. Every day, our brothers and sisters risk their lives in harsh conditions so that we may enjoy the day-to-day comforts of home and the fundamental, essential freedoms we often take for granted. May we recognize the human cost of war and elect representatives who truly comprehend it, as well. May our military men and women feel strongly supported during their deployment.
That morning, I imagined the military men and women of Spencerport engaged in difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable work in a hostile environment. I wondered if their families would gather soon in nearby back yards on this holiday weekend, keenly missing a son, a daughter, a father, mother, brother or sister. I pray that our hometown heroes will be warmly welcomed back again in the near future, by a country that respects their service and provides the restorative care they need. May we honor in memory those who paid the ultimate price in battle, and may we treat with compassion and dignity our soldiers who make it home.
. . . Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
—America, words: Samuel F. Smith, 1832; Music: Thesaurus Musicus, 1744
Our daughter is now twenty and in her second year at UVA. I find myself missing her more than ever recently. And today, as I look through the charming old cards we’ve saved from her childhood, I wish I were on my way to pick her up from preschool so we could enjoy a celebratory afternoon together. My favorite Valentine’s Days were those when my daughter was a toddler. See Fool-proof Valentine’s Days, a post from 2012.
I also have cozily pleasant memories of making Valentines with my mother throughout my elementary and middle school years. The preparation was the high point. The actual day tended to disappoint. Young love, for me, as for many, was elusive and unrequited. See The Best Part of Valentine’s Day: Before the Day.
On this Valentine’s Day, I wish you comfort, love and happiness. Don’t fall prey to the hype. Those false expectations of perfect romance are set by merchandisers hoping we’ll buy into hollow dreams. Instead, call a friend, make a card, spend an hour with a child or an elderly person. Someone out there may need you to be their Valentine.
During the height of pre-Christmas hubbub, as the humans in our household fret the fine points of preparing for the season, Kiko maintains his air of customary quiet serenity.
He is the tranquil eye of our holiday storm.
He gifts us with his presence as we wrap gifts.
Kiko keeps calm as we carry on.
This December I’m taking Kiko’s comforting presence to heart. I’ll step back from the edge when I feel myself about to plunge into holiday overdrive. My gifting will focus less on those who have everything and more on those who have little. I will say no to some proposed, supposedly festive activities. Our Christmas cards will become New Year’s cards, sent out in early January. Maybe mid-January.
I’d like to hold my little dog up as some kind of spiritual mentor. I could pretend that he’s a holy fellow, engaged in prayerful contemplation, actively resisting the rampant secularization of Christmas. Clearly, Kiko abides “in that place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,” as in the words of a favorite hymn.
But I know he simply enjoys a good snooze. Apparently, as a senior dog, he needs to sleep more now than during his teen years. And should he wish to help with gift-wrapping or cookie-making, he lacks the hands to do so.
But my handsome dog, lying in sweet repose, reminds me that I can allow myself a time-out. Every once in a while, I join him on the sofa for a nap.
Typically, Kiko endures my company for only a short while. Then he gets up, stretches, shakes vigorously and resettles on the floor. Please, he says, don’t mistake his desire to snooze for a need to cuddle. Unless there’s a chance of thunder, of course.
Back in the days when Wild Trumpet Vine was young, I managed to compose many Christmas-themed posts. How did I find the time? I have no idea, except that I was younger then, too. And evidently I had more to say. December has only just begun, but if the past few years have taught me anything, it is this: the month will dash by as though in a sudden sprint. December moves at warp speed. Much like last year and the one before, there will be little time in these short, dark days for writing. So, from the Archives, posts for the season, which I conveniently grouped together this time last year. Some deal with surface treatments, the baubles and the glitz, and others dive deeper.