O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness,
and every gain divine.
God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control,
thy liberty in law!
–America the Beautiful
words by Katharine Lee Bates, 1904
music by Samuel A. Ward, 1888
Wishing you and your family a peaceful, beautiful Memorial Day. May you have the freedom to gather with those you love. And may we honor and remember all those who gave their service and their lives for our ability to do so.
With the passing of the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday, this world has lost a tenacious and tireless advocate in the cause of justice for all. The second woman elected to the Supreme Court, she served for twenty-seven years, rarely missing a day despite recurring cancer treatments in later life. Last week she lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman, and the first person of Jewish faith, to do so.
The woman who would become known as the Notorious RBG was born Joan Ruth Bader in working class Flatbush Brooklyn in 1933. Her father, a furrier, had come to the U.S. from Russia at thirteen. Her mother was born in America to parents who had recently emigrated from Austria. She was the second of the couple’s two children. Her older sister Marilyn died of meningitis at age six, when Ruth was just over a year old. Once she reached school age, there were several girls named Joan in her elementary school class, and it was decided that she would use her middle name.
Ruth’s mother, Celia, was a powerful influence on her only surviving daughter. Celia was highly intelligent, inquisitive, and hard working. She graduated from high school at age fifteen, but limited resources prevented her from enrolling in college. Instead, she went to work at a garment factory to help pay for her brother’s education at Cornell. Celia was determined that Ruth pursue the educational path that had been denied her. She secretly put aside money each week in a college fund. Happily, Ruth, like her mother, excelled academically. Celia was diagnosed with cervical cancer when Ruth started high school. Surgeries and radiation treatments prolonged her life for four years, but she died the day before her daughter’s graduation. Ruth was valedictorian of her class, but she missed Commencement to mourn at home with her father. Celia’s college fund had grown to $8,000 by that time, but Ruth gave most of it to her father. She didn’t need it for her education, because she’d earned a full scholarship to Cornell.
At the university, Ruth Bader met fellow student Martin Ginsburg, whom she described as “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.” Outgoing, jovial, and the life of the party, Marty was a foil to Ruth’s more serious, quiet personality. They married in 1954, shortly after graduation. Marty was drafted into the Army, and their first child, Jane, was born before long. After two years in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, they moved back east, and both enrolled in Harvard Law School. Ruth was one of nine women out of a class of five hundred. Coping with adversity and maintaining an academic focus while dealing with the illness of a loved one were skills that Ruth had mastered as a girl. They came in handy during her early married life when Marty was diagnosed with cancer. Ruth managed, somehow, to maintain excellence in her demanding studies, help her husband stay afloat with his, all the while caring for him and their daughter.
Marty made a complete recovery, graduated, and took a job at a New York law firm. Another year of law school remained for Ruth, so she transferred to Columbia and continued her studies. She made Law Review at both Harvard and Columbia. In 1959, despite graduating first in her class (she tied with a male student), and the glowing recommendations she received from her professors, she found it difficult to find employment. She’d had a summer job at one of New York’s premier law firms, but no permanent offer was forthcoming after graduation, from that firm or the other twelve with which she interviewed. After several rejections for clerkships, also because of her gender, she attained a position as a law clerk at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. Facing the fact that the doors of major law firms remained closed to women through the 1960s and 70s, Ruth’s career path turned toward teaching. She taught first at Rutgers and then at Columbia, where she became the first woman to earn tenure.
Along with her academic responsibilities, Ginsburg began to litigate gender discrimination cases referred to her by the American Civil Liberties Union. She co-founded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project in 1972, which was created with the goal of removing impediments toward equal opportunity, such as those she had experienced herself. During the 1970s, she argued six pivotal gender equality cases before the Supreme Court. She won five. One of these involved a male plaintiff, a widower who had not been awarded the Social Security benefits to which a widow was entitled. One of Ginsburg’s most fiercely held convictions was that neither women, nor men, should be held to narrow, confining gender stereotypes. Her husband agreed, and their loving fifty-six year marriage was marked by the sharing of household duties and the raising of their two children. (Their son, James, was born in 1965.) When President Jimmy Carter appointed Ruth to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980, Marty quit his prestigious and highly paid job as a tax lawyer in New York to become a professor at Georgetown University Law School. Marty, by all accounts, was Ruth’s most dedicated supporter and ardent cheerleader.
When President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, she was easily confirmed by the Senate, in those less partisan days, by a vote of 96-3. During her nearly three-decades long tenure at the high court, she became known for her powerfully and beautifully worded dissents, which Justice Ginsburg regarded as “appealing to the intelligence of a future day.” With the passage of time, the minority opinion (as, for example, in the cases of slavery, civil and voting rights), is likely to become the prevailing one. In the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”*
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt’s eulogy at Friday’s memorial service for Justice Ginsburg focused on a phrase from the Torah featured in a framed artwork in the judge’s chambers. One of the core tenets of Judaism, from Deuteronomy 16: 20, it reads: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” The repetition of the word “justice” emphasizes its significance. The verse makes clear for Jews that one cannot be in right relationship with God while mistreating fellow humans, including the widow, the orphan, the servant, the immigrant, the least and the lost. For the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her life’s goal and guiding light was the meticulous perseverance, step by step, case by case, in the pursuit of justice, justice, for all people. May her legacy live on. And may the “intelligence of that future day” be quick in coming.
*King’s words condense and paraphrase a passage written in an 1853 sermon by the Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker.
Many thanks to my friend, the Reverend Dawn-Marie, for providing the beautiful photos documenting the honoring of Justice Ginsburg in Washington, D.C on September 25.
This week our nation honors Congressman John Lewis, who died on July 17 at the age of eighty. I’m fortunate to have grown up hearing Lewis’s distinctive voice. I remember him as an Atlanta City Councilman. My childhood home is in Georgia’s 5th district, which he represented in Congress for over thirty years. His eventful life, by accounts, was truly purpose-driven. Born to former sharecroppers who saved enough to buy their own small farm in Troy, Alabama, he was the third of ten children. A serious, thoughtful boy who thrived on learning, he began his public speaking career in early childhood, preaching to the chickens. He loved books, when he could get them. The county public library was off limits to people of color. He attended local segregated schools. Higher education seemed hopelessly out of reach until he learned about American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. The Seminary offered free tuition, in exchange for campus work, to black students planning to become ministers. After graduating from the Seminary, Lewis enrolled in Fisk College to pursue a degree in religion and philosophy. Although ordained as a Baptist minister, he had begun to feel a powerful call toward a path of activism in civil rights. Throughout his life, he preached his strong faith with actions as well as words. The chickens’ loss was a gain for Americans and people all over the globe.
Lewis was among the young black men, neatly dressed in suits and ties, who dared to enter all-white Nashville diners and sit at lunch counters politely requesting to be served. Freedom Rides on buses throughout the South followed. As the Chairman of the Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he became a leader of the student civil rights movement. Before long, Lewis was working closely with nationally known Black leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. At twenty-three, he was the youngest speaker at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
Lewis’ s unswerving commitment to nonviolent activism got him repeatedly arrested and often beaten, a few times nearly killed. Ironic, isn’t it, that peaceful protest, which requires vast stores of self-discipline, tends to ignite such frenzied brutality in those challenged by it? On March 7, 1965, Lewis and Hosea Williams led a group of six hundred, in what was intended to be a fifty-mile march from Selma, Alabama to the capitol in Montgomery in a demand for voting reform. The Civil Rights Act, which President Johnson had signed into law in 1964, addressed some forms of discrimination but did not touch on unfair voting practices. Throughout much of the Deep South, poll taxes and spurious “literacy tests” were used to suppress the black vote. The efforts of Lewis and the SNCC to register blacks to vote in Alabama was sparking increasing hostility from law enforcement and white segregationists. At the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, on what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis and Williams saw a fearsome human barricade of state troopers and police awaiting them. It’s notable that the name of the bridge, so prominently displayed, honors a Confederate General and former Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The marchers continued to approach, quietly and orderly in a long narrow column, until they were about fifty feet away. Law enforcement warned them to turn back and disperse. The group, with Lewis and Williams still at the front, stood their ground. Williams asked to “have a word,” but the police were finished talking. After a few minutes, the officers put on their gas masks and advanced toward the protestors, pushing them back. The group resisted the urge to defend themselves. Many were knocked to the ground, beaten with clubs and sprayed with tear gas. Lewis’s skull was cracked by a policeman’s billy club.
Nonviolent protest served its purpose that day. Most Americans reacted with shock and anger when the images of police attacking unarmed marchers quickly appeared on televisions and in newspapers. Public demand for serious voting reform gained ground. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law just a few months later.
Today, at our nation’s capitol, the public is paying final respects to John Lewis. On Saturday, July 25, his flag-draped coffin, born by a horse-drawn caisson, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time. For many years, there has been talk of renaming the bridge for Lewis, a son of Alabama whose determination to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America” yielded fruit on Bloody Sunday and throughout the span of his eight decades on earth.
It’s appropriate that Lewis’s final public appearance was a visit to the newly created Black Lives Matter Plaza near Lafayette Square in Washington DC. He was weak from a chemo treatment the day before, but he wanted to see the site of peaceful protests that were sowing the seeds of change. 2020, for all its misery and misfortune, could well be a pivotal juncture in race relations in America. If we take to heart the wise words and courageous actions of the man who came to be known as the “Conscious of the Congress,” perhaps it can indeed be so.
I’ll end with some of Lewis’s own words. As a young man in his 1963 speech at the March on Washington, he urged our nation toward transformation:
Our minds, souls and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all people. . .
We must say: Wake up America, wake up!
Throughout his life, Lewis was persistent, and his message consistent. In a commencement speech at Emory University in Atlanta in 2014, the seventy-six year old offered this advice:
We all live in the same house. It doesn’t matter whether we are black or white, Latino, Asian American, straight or gay. We are one people, one family. We all live in the same house. So be bold, be courageous. Stand up! Speak up! Speak out! And find a way to create the beloved community. The beloved world. The world of peace. The world that recognizes the dignity of all human kind. Never become bitter. Never become hostile. Never hate. Live in peace. We are one. One people and one love.
May we honor John Lewis in the most honorable way possible, by following his example. By working toward the good of all Americans. This means avoiding violence. In Lewis’s words, again: When someone calls you everything but a child of God, you keep your cool. You stand with dignity, or you kneel with dignity. It means truly listening to one another. It may mean rethinking long-held convictions and taking actions that we never expected to take. As Lewis has said, When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to not be quiet.
Remember that we’re not starting from scratch. We’re building on Lewis’s legacy, a strong foundation of love, peace and hope.
Memorial Day has one foot on solemn, hallowed ground and one in a carnival tent. It’s a time for honoring and remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country. It’s the kickoff to summer fun. It’s flag-draped coffins, wreaths laid on graves, and quiet green fields marked with rows upon rows of neat white stones. It’s barbecues, pool parties, and family reunions. It’s a time to mourn. It’s a time to party. It’s a time to raise a glass in a somber, earnest toast. It’s a time to drink with joyful abandon, perhaps to the point of forgetting.
This Memorial Day is unlike no other. It’s topped with an extra layer of melancholy. The number of American lives lost to Covid-19 approaches, in less than three months, the inauspicious milestone of 100,000. As of publication of this post, the figure stands at 98,034. Among the deceased are those who survived past wars but were no match for this invisible enemy, a shape-shifting virus.
Today, when we honor our war dead, we also pay tribute to those who have lost their battle with a new, confounding foe. We lament the fact that this summer is likely to be short on carefree fun. But it could be empowering to view our actions (and our avoidance of certain actions) as tactical responses in our collective Covid fight. Every time we wear a mask at the grocery, or don’t get together with a big group of friends, don’t travel to visit family, every time we keep plenty of space between us and those we meet, we’re being zealous soldiers. We’re fighting the good fight. It may also help to remember, when we forego an activity that used to give us particular pleasure, that we’re fighting not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones and neighbors.
With the ceremonies attending this month’s 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, my Uncle Bill, a veteran of World War II, has been very much on my mind. Bill wasn’t among those who stormed the beaches of Normandy. Instead, he was a Frogman in the Pacific. But were he alive today, he would have been 93, the same age as many of the veterans who returned to the French coast last week to be honored for their long-ago heroism. Like these now elderly, frail gentlemen, during his military service, Bill persevered in the face of daunting odds and certain danger. Like them, he would likely look back today and marvel at his youthful naivete, fearlessness and fortitude. Also like these aged honorees, he would probably contemplate the accident of his own survival as he recalled friends who were not so fortunate.
It seems fitting, then, to repost an amended version of a tribute to my dear Uncle Bill, written during Father’s Day week in 2012.
William Graham was born in rural Marion County, Kentucky in 1925, the third of five children, the second of my maternal grandparents’ three sons. My mother, the baby of the family, would enter the world ten years later. In physical appearance, temperament and attitude, Bill was very much like his father, who died when I was almost six. For me, Uncle Bill provided a tangible, very real link to my grandfather. (See my earlier post here: A Week of Good Fathers: My Grandaddy. For that reason alone, I would have revered him. For many other reasons, I loved, and loved being around my Uncle Bill.
By all accounts, Bill was so like my grandfather that they were often at loggerheads during my uncle’s boyhood and teen years. Each was painfully honest in every situation, and this may have proved more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone in their relationship. Bill had little interest in becoming a farmer like his father. Fortunately for him, his older brother Leland had followed in Grandaddy’s footsteps and taken over the cultivation of the land by the Rolling Fork River. My grandfather continued to maintain the farm closer to town. When World War II began, Bill saw it as an opportunity to escape farm work and put a stop to conflict with his father. He enlisted at seventeen, just before Christmas of 1943. Although blessed with a keen intellect, a rebellious streak led to conflicts with teachers, and Bill left for the Army without completing his senior year of high school.
Bill wrote home diligently throughout his military service, and we have most of the letters he sent. Never overly sentimental, never self-pitying, his early letters border on heartbreaking. They express the thoughts of a young man who acted in haste and immediately regretted his decision.
These first letters, sent from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, tell of receiving vaccinations, shoveling snow in blizzard-like conditions, and hoping to join the Air Corps but being eight pounds underweight. Bill lists the various articles of clothing he has been issued, remarking with amazement that it’s more than he’s ever seen before. He asks his family to send some shoe polish, because his boots have stiffened uncomfortably from daily wear in the snow and slush. He also asks for a pencil and a few wire coat hangers. The talk in the barracks, morning and night, was that of homesick young men pining for their loved ones and the lives they had left behind. Most, like Uncle Bill, were from rural areas. They had realized, too late, the simple glory of farm life. In Bill’s words, he “never realized how swell home was, but he sure would like to see it now.” His father, he admits, knew more about the Army than he did. His letters are always signed “Love, Billy.”
He was soon transferred to Fort Gordon-Johnston in Florida for basic training to enter an amphibious brigade. At the end of January 1944, he reports getting $39.55 for his first month of duty. Nearly every letter begins with an apology for not writing sooner, but he seems to have written every few days. He often asks about my mother’s asthma, the progress of the tobacco stripping, and he offers hopes that the crop will bring a good price. A high point about army life, he notes, is access to new movies. He mentions seeing Jack London, Swing Fever and later, Double Indemnity. In one letter he writes that he was “feeling fine, and at times, almost happy, but not quite.” That expression of thoughtful, measured restraint is so very Bill.
As the months ticked by, Bill wrote from increasingly exotic places, although his exact location could not be divulged. From Florida, he went to New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, many small islands in the Phillipines, and then on to Hawaii for training in Underwater Demolition. After his return, he talked of being dropped in the ocean, no land in sight, and no special equipment but a pair of flippers. He and his fellow Frogmen were expected to tread water for six to eight hours as they awaited the ship’s return. The Frogmen were the precursors to the Navy SEALs, and I can only imagine the intensity of other training exercises and actual duties. Bill didn’t talk much about any of that.
The tone of homesick regret is gradually replaced by a sense of wonder at the strange beauty of places he could never have imagined. In the Philippines, he buys a handmade mattress from a local woman, tours a ruined city in a horse-drawn buggy-taxi, attends Saturday night dances on base where the “fine-looking” Spanish and Filippino girls “can jitterbug to put the girls back home to shame.” He discovers an injured cockatoo in the jungle and nurses it back to health. He revels in the abundance of tropical fruit and notes that there is no cigarette shortage in the army, unlike in the States. He is surprised by his ability to work all day, on a ship in the equatorial zone, in temperatures up to 115 degrees, with hardly any ill effects. The miserable poverty of some of the native villages affects him deeply. Hospitalized for a while with “yellow jaundice,” he enjoys the rest, as well as the fluffy pillows. When a fellow patient has a break-down and runs screaming in the halls, he remarks that the jungles will do that to you, after two or three years. He laments not being able to write about the most interesting parts of his days, because such information would be censored. Despite his discretion, in several of his letters a line or two has been neatly cut away. How I wish I’d read these letters during Bill’s lifetime. There are so many questions I would have asked.
In Bill’s letter of August 16, 1945, news has just broken of Japan’s surrender. The war is officially over. He begins to believe he will return home soon, to the farm he had so wanted to leave. After several months in the U.S. occupational forces in Japan, he arrived stateside in the winter of 1946. Like his fellow soldiers lucky enough to return, he was older and wiser, and had a renewed appreciation for home.
Bill went to the University of Kentucky on the G. I. bill. His dark hair turned completely silver when he was still in his late 20s, giving him an air of elegant sophistication. My father, seeing Mama with her brother on campus, assumed she was with a handsome professor. Bill was in his 30s when he married a divorced woman with two sons. Margaret was the sister of one of my mother’s childhood friends. Bill never had any biological children, but he was a supportive and caring stepfather. Mama and Bill were close, and they were alike in many ways. As long as I can remember, Uncle Bill was a big part of my life. He often traveled to Atlanta on business. When it was still a rather grand hotel and hadn’t slipped into seediness, he stayed downtown at the old Henry Grady Hotel. He often had a free evening, and he’d treat my parents and me to a festive dinner, somewhere we wouldn’t ordinarily go. Occasionally he stayed at the now long-demolished Admiral Benbow Inn on Spring Street, which had a pool. I remember swimming there a few times with my two best elementary school friends. I always looked forward to Uncle Bill’s visits. I loved his dry wit, which was sarcastic and sometimes biting, but never mean-spirited. He was well-read, reflective, widely informed and inclined to doubt. He shared with my mother and me a love for the melancholy humor of Thomas Hardy novels. As a connoisseur of life’s ironic absurdities, Bill was highly amusing company.
Uncle Bill was empathetic and attuned to the plight of the down-trodden. He was especially soft-hearted when it came to animals. (I sure wish I could have learned more about that injured cockatoo!) Bill always had a dog, or he cared for someone else’s dog, typically one that would prefer to be Bill’s. When a neighbor’s three-legged lab mix made it clear that he would much rather live with my uncle, his owners passed him on. With Bill, Colonel got several walks each day, plus a long car ride. Colonel loved a ride, so Bill made it part of their routine. During a visit after Colonel’s death and not long before Bill’s own, I went with him on his nightly duty to walk a neighbor’s dog. Bill had noticed that the dog’s owner worked long hours, and he offered to provide an afternoon walk. Before long, this had turned into three daily walks. Bill was retired and dogless at the time, so he was happy to oblige. On the night I went with him, he put his raincoat over his pajamas and we walked down the street to the neighbor’s home. He let us in with his own key, and the woman rose to greet us warmly, from what appeared to be a late-night dinner party. No doubt her guests thought it odd that her dog-walker was a dashing silver-haired seventy-year old in PJs. No doubt they also thought she had lucked into a great deal. Bill never cared if people considered him somewhat eccentric.
Bill’s time in the service may have fostered his love of travel. He and Margaret were always setting off for some legendary spot. During my year in England they popped in on several occasions. Our pre-dinner pub conversation was always a particular pleasure. They were my first visitors when I lived in Cambridge. We ate at the city’s best restaurants and took day-trips to Eton and Windsor Castle. Later in the year, we rented a car and drove up to York over the course of nearly a week. Bill and Margaret went on to Scotland and I returned to London by train. And when I was in England for a month the next year, they came back, too. I can still see the look of incredulity on Bill’s face when he saw my tiny, cell-like room in the London House Annex, a dormitory for visiting students.
Uncle Bill died much too soon, at 71. I guess because he was so like my grandfather, who made it to 79, I thought we’d have him around for a few more years. He was there for my wedding, but he never got to see my beautiful baby girl. He would certainly have enjoyed watching her grow into the unique young woman she is now. It’s a great consolation, however, to reflect on the many lives that Uncle Bill touched, with his kindness, generosity and humor. And I have faith that now, in some heavenly realm, he and Grandaddy, two kindred spirits, are enjoying peaceful, yet lively good fellowship.
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
My father never made a big deal about days like today. He wholeheartedly appreciated any modest gifts I might give him–a tie, cufflinks, a gift card to Long Horn Steakhouse–but he didn’t expect them, and he never considered them to be his due. What he loved best were probably the photos I sent, especially the photo books I made for him. He wasn’t enamored of stuff. Daddy was, or at least seemed to be, to an almost extraordinary degree, perfectly content with his life in terms of the material and the intangible.
While Daddy wasn’t one for long telephone conversations, he valued a quick call on Father’s Day or his birthday. I’d say I loved him, he’d say he loved me. These weren’t just words, although we said them often. In recent years, upon hearing my voice on the line, he usually said, “You sound like my little girl.” Those words were a comfort. I could hear the laughter in his voice, see the smile in his eyes. They affirmed that I would always be his little girl. And I could always be certain of my father’s love.
My ears won’t hear Daddy say those familiar words today. But they echo in my mind, and I will treasure them in my heart, forever. How blessed I am to be my father’s girl.
Elvis the Cat was my friend Doug’s beloved companion. Doug passed away almost two years ago, after a long, hard-fought battle with the rare disease syringomyelia. (See Remembering Doug, February 2012.) During Doug’s last years, when his illness had deprived him of nearly all mobility, Elvis must have been an especially great comfort. After Doug died, Elvis was there to offer love and support for Doug’s wife. Now Elvis has gone on to his eternal reward. He was eighteen years old. Like Doug, he was a unique character. Like Doug, he will be greatly missed.
During visits to my parents in Atlanta, my daughter and I enjoyed dropping in to talk with Doug, who never failed to entertain; his love of life remained robust no matter his level of discomfort. If we lingered a while, we would usually be graced by Elvis’s regal presence. He was reserved around all but immediate family, not one to dole out affection indiscriminately. Elvis was especially wary of children. As Doug advised D when she was a preschooler, Elvis didn’t appreciate loud voices and sudden movements. She took this advice to heart, and it often paid off. Elvis would first peer in from the hall, sizing us up with his cool yellow cat eyes. Sometimes he decided we weren’t worth his time. With a flip of his tail, he’d disappear. Other times he gave us the OK and approached tentatively, gracefully, on tip-toe. D was delighted when he decided to settle in beside her, allowing her to stroke his abundantly fluffy black fur and hear his deep, growly purr.
Doug’s wife told my mother that although the house feels oddly empty, now that Elvis is no longer there, she has much to be thankful for. She is grateful that Elvis was with Doug until the end, and that he stayed a while afterwards to offer solace as she began the process of adjusting to life without her husband. Anyone lucky enough to be helped through a difficult time by the precious comfort of a pet must know the feeling.
Rest in peace, dear Elvis. It was our good fortune to know you.