Tag Archives: honor

This Is Life

Flipping through television channels is one of my least favorite things to do, but that is what I was doing Sunday evening when I discovered CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” a series that describes itself by saying that Ling “goes on a gritty, breathtaking journey to the far corners of America.” The episode I watched was more grisly than gritty as she journeyed to the L.A. County Coroner’s office (like “This is Death with Lisa Ling”).

The show was creepily captivating—and a little personal since I learned that everyone who dies in L.A. County outside of being in a hospital under physician’s care is taken to the warehouse that Ling toured for the world to see. I live in L.A. County.

I also learned that approximately eleven thousand dead bodies are processed in same warehouse each year, which if you do the math, is a lot. The crazy number is at least understandable since L.A. County is the most populous county in the nation (ten million people!), which is like Arkansas plus Mississippi plus Oklahoma (or, for easy math, the nation of Sweden). But still. That thirty dead people on average show up there every day is just difficult to imagine.

Ling introduced viewers to several employees filling several roles at the Coroner’s, and in so doing, basically walked us through the entire process. In particular, we followed the path of the unidentified dead, from the search for family members to the eventual cremation of those whose families cannot be found.

I mean, it was a fun show. Sort of a new Addams Family!

No, it was heartbreaking. Until, that is…

At the end of the hour, Ling shared that the Coroner’s office periodically hosts a multi-faith service in Evergreen Cemetery to honor the unidentified, which sadly numbered over a thousand at the one featured on our television screen. That part was still heartbreaking. The heart-mending part for me was the point Ling made that although these souls died alone, their ashes are honored in community.

That part—the honoring of all people in community—fits the name of Ling’s show. That is what life is all about if you ask me. Now, if we can just work backward and honor the lonely while they are still alive, we will have arrived at someplace worthwhile.

Remember Sacrifice

I don’t like giving up dessert to improve my health. I don’t like giving up a baseball game for work. I resist giving hard-earned cash even for causes I deeply support. Heck, I don’t even like giving up a good parking space for someone who needs it worse than I do.

But to inspire positive change, sacrifice is inevitable.

On this Memorial Day, I recall presiding over numerous military funerals at Biloxi National Cemetery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is difficult to have fond memories surrounding death, but there is something special about a military funeral: the peaceful grounds, the perfect order of the markers, and the folding and presentation of the flag to a grieving family that pierces the hardest heart.

As officiant, my back was always turned to the twenty-one gun salute, and I never was prepared for the explosion of gunfire from the seven rifles that shattered the still, humid air. I shuddered on each of the subsequent rounds even though I knew they were coming.

The most poignant moment was the playing of Taps. Even when the family had held it together, the initial notes of that haunting melody, low, low, high . . . burst the tear duct dam every time. I never noticed if the bugler was a pimply-teenage boy or middle-age mother—the identity did not matter. The command was in the music, and the last dying note hung in the air with such rich honor that no one dared to breathe.

Honor.

Surely the cruel specter of death was not honored. Surely the hell of war was not honored. I am sure it was the tragic beauty of sacrifice that was worthy of such solemn respect and dignity.

The very name, Memorial Day, instruct us of its aim—to remember—but I prefer the negative framing—that individual souls not be forgotten.

This nation, in fact every nation has a vested interest in asking its citizenry to remember such sacrifice for a nation needs human resources to carry out its survival goal. And in our deeply divided political climate we can argue national policy that leads to war, and we do, and we should. But today, I wish we could lay that aside for a few moments and stop shopping for a new car and grilling hot dogs long enough to remember and honor sacrifice.

On another day it might be for the firefighter who rushed upstairs while the World Trade Center collapsed. On another day it might be the police officer who kisses her husband goodbye every morning knowing that her chosen profession does not guarantee an evening safe at home. On another day it might be the activist who stands up against abusive power knowing that such a stand may very well leave him a victim of that very power.

But today, it is the soldier on the battlefield willing to die for a greater cause than self.

The aptly-named ultimate sacrifice should not be forgotten, for it is that very willingness to give up all for the good of another that is the heart of our collective desire for a better world.

For the 148th consecutive year at Gettysburg, and at locations all across the nation, the bugler takes her position . . .

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Possibly of interest:

  • The original lyrics of Taps, by Horace Lorenzo Trim:
    Day is done, gone the sun
    From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
    All is well, safely rest
    God is nigh.

    Fading light dims the sight
    And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
    From afar, drawing near
    Falls the night.

    Thanks and praise for our days
    Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
    As we go, this we know
    God is nigh.

  • Decoration Day by Charles Ives (performed by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas).  Decoration Day was the original name of Memorial Day.