Memorial Day brings many things to my mind. I think of all the boys I went to high school with who graduated with me in 1968 only to be drafted soon thereafter and shipped off to Viet-Nam, many never to come back. I think of a young man I dated who did come back, but so badly damaged emotionally from the experience that he used to have flashbacks and hide behind the sofa, crying. I think of a generation of young men, some gone, and some treated like the enemy and invisible when they came home. Lots of time, however, I think about my Dad.
My Dad was born in 1906. When World War I came around, he was too young to enlist. Even at the tender age of 15, my father was not to be stopped from fulfilling what he believed was his duty. So he stole his older brother's ID and ran away to join up. His father, my grandfather, had been killed in a work related accident when my Dad was 11. Since there were no laws keeping children in school at that time, he and his older brothers all quit school to help support the family. So it should have been no surprise that my Dad was already carrying the heart of a grown man within him. It took my grandmother three months to locate him and bring him home.
By the time World War II started, my poor Dad was now too old to be drafted. Plus, as the youngest son, he would have been spared anyway. By this time, he had spent many years apprenticing with an auto mechanic and eventually started his own business. Since he could not serve his country on the front lines, he did what he could from where he was, with what he had, especially for those returning servicemen. Any and all of his friends or relatives, and even some strangers, who served and made it back never paid a dime to have their cars repaired. He was the one they called in the dead of night or in the middle of a snow storm to come and get them if they broke down. He extended this service to others who served their country in one way or another, especially police officers and firemen. Nobody paid for anything. It was what he could do for those that did what he couldn't. He never got rich that way, but that wasn't important to him. He was especially kind to the Viet Nam Vets who were shunned by so many. He kept a Coke machine in his gas station and those that served never paid for a cold drink. He gave them a place to hang out while their vehicles were being repaired, or just to have a place to go during the day for those that had neither a vehicle to drive or a home to go to.
One of my favorite transformational teachers, Mike Dooley, creator of the wonderful and inspiring, Notes From The Universe taught me this:
"Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are."
Today is Memorial Day, and we will have our parades, and cheer for our men and women who put their lives on the line for their country. We will remember those that did not come back, and we will put little flags on the graves of those that did but not in the way we would have wished. We will listen to them play Taps and then go home to our barbecues, but Memorial Day doesn't end there. Memorial Day is every day. For those of us who did not get to serve, even if we strongly disagree with our country's military and political mindset, we can at least do what we can to support throughout the year those that put politics aside to keep us free. Maybe a kind word, a smile, shaking their hand and saying "thank you," or volunteering at a Vet Hospital even if it's just to shoot the breeze or read to them. There are as many ways of saying "thank you" as there are people in the world. Everybody can find a way to do it. If my Dad were still here with us, he would show you.
And so it is.