Thursday, November 12, 2009

On the way back from taking dinner to the field yesterday I got behind someone's old grain truck laboring up the hill, so I changed my route. Its one of the beauties and conveniences of a dry fall day that if one section road is clogged with harvest equipment, you just drive a mile in any direction and that road will be just as good. And probably scenic as well. That was the case this time. I came out just below the Center Grove cemetery with a view of the gravestones gently marching up the hill to the east, the grass still green and free of leaves. Leaves don't linger away from the shelter of town and, besides, Center Grove's trees are primarily wind beaten cedars.

The beauty and peace of Center Grove reminded me of the dignified and austere silence of Arlington National Cemetery. Whether seen from a distance or experienced on foot, the place requires the same silence and reverence as a cathedral. I feel the same burden of history, the collective memories of many souls and the realization of our own insignificant slice of time and experience. Each life here is small as well, but immortalized and magnified by its participation in the great events of our country. Arlington carries the additional poignancy of its origin as the home of Robert E. Lee. There is a recurring sense of irony in the view from the front porch of Washington, D.C. and the monuments of the Union he denied in his loyalty to a state and his people.

Aaron and his class donned paper hats colored with red, white and blue stripes and stars. The hats themselves looked rather Napoleonic, but why quibble. Kindergarteners know nothing of dictators. They stood up in front of the school assembly and sang a little song someone penned about Veteran's Day and set to the tune 'Danny Boy'. They waved their little flags as they sang to some of the Atchison county veterans seated in front of the students. Aaron was particularly excited to have a chance to salute. The superintendent gave a very nice personal talk about his experience growing up a military brat, reiterating the difference between the freedom to conduct our daily affairs in thoughtless safety and the very real possibility of violence in many other lands.

I grew up with the violence and unrest of the Vietnam era. Even in Jefferson City the students broke windows and set fires. Even though I was young, I did not understand the impetus to disparage the members of the armed services doing their duty. Those demonstrating, or rioting, were not in harm's way; not facing a real enemy. It was an ugly time. The knowledge of war and the necessity for war fills me with dread, but this time around, our country has responded to those who protect her with honor, pride and respect. The citizens who fight for America deserve all this and we are a better country when we yield them our gratitude.

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