Tag Archives: sacrifice

A Passing Truck

17933944_1332678760146276_5840434144147931136_n(1)It was just a truck.

I was pumping gas at the Shell station next to the lively Pacific Coast Highway last Friday when I just happened to see a white pickup truck pass by sporting a black bed cover. It was nothing special, but it produced a memory from over a quarter century ago.

At the time I was in college a good five-hour drive away from home, and my meager possessions did not all fit in a regular truck cabin. A bed cover just made sense given the space challenge and the unpredictable Arkansas weather. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, so my dad bought some wood and some black, weather-resistant astroturf, made careful measurements and some posts to fit the corners, and before long my truck bed was in the dry.

It was just a passing truck, but it reminded me.

I loved that old truck: A maroon, stepside, 1989 GMC Sierra 1500 with a short wheelbase and a big ol’ 350 engine that made it fun to pass cars and tractors and chicken-hauling trailers on those long drives across the Arkansas hills. It wasn’t my first vehicle, but it was the first one that I was proud to call my own, and although it was out of my family’s price range, I’m pretty sure my dad wanted me to have it. He sacrificed a lot for me.

I know it was just a truck, but it was where I first kissed Jody and later (but not much) where I asked her to marry me. When we decided to buy our first house, we sold that truck to afford the down payment, not long before that sweet dad of mine died.

It was just a passing truck, I guess, but it caused me to remember another truck that represents home and the love that shapes your life, so it made me smile.

The Heroic Life

We have grown weary of recounting where we were on September 11, 2001. There may come a day when new generations ask us to remember, and we most assuredly will for the memories are too strong to fade. But the jury is still out on whether the lessons will endure.

There is one image-turned-lesson that I have pledged never to let fade: Firefighters racing up the stairwells of the World Trade Center as the buildings crumbled. They were simply doing what they were trained to do, which was to be heroic. I want to live like that, too—racing toward danger and not away from it—so it stands to reason that I also want to die that way. That is neither thrill-seeking nor pushing limits nor adrenaline addiction; instead, it is a compelling desire to make the world better for those in great need, which I remain convinced requires leaving safety and venturing toward danger.

Years ago, I read a couplet that captures this goal and have shared it often:

Some want to live within sound of church and steeple bell.
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

That.

Looking back, the times in life when I felt most alive were those spent at the Hellside Rescue Shop. In that shop, there must be a portrait of a New York City firefighter racing up those steps. The firefighter is young and brave and determined and has so much to live for, which is exactly what you find in that image—someone living for so much. Today, I spend extra time looking at that inspiring image.

I invite others to consider such a life, one that acknowledges fear but meets it head on. Living for others is preferable to living for self-indulgence, self-preservation, and self-promotion, and the lines to get in are way shorter.

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.