Memorial Day

We used to call it decoration day, for it was a time of placing flowers and flags on the graves of America’s war dead. Later it became know as Memorial day to honor all those who have died in the service of their country.

The idea for a day of honor began with James Redpath, superintendent of Schools in Charleston, South Carolina. In the spring of 1865 he became very upset after a viewing a field of only partially buried union soldiers in nameless graves. He organized a memorial day that took place on May 2, 1865. Some ten thousand people participated honoring the dead from both the North and the South.

Three year later, in 1868, the man who most historians credit with starting memorial day, General John Alexander Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30 as “Decoration Day”.

As it must, even the memory of Memorial day celebrations change with each generation. A few, but not many, can remember years ago when the bent and grizzled veterans of the Civil war were treated to places of honor at the head of every small town parade.

Then came the Spanish American War Veterans, then World War One and World War Two. Today Korean and Vietnam War Veterans are the new senior citizens of Memorial Day Parades. It time it will be the Gulf wars one and two and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the many clandestine operations of honor that took American lives, but left no legacy or information. If no American dies in war from this time on, then the number of those we honor this Memorial Day Weekend for having died in America’s wars, starting with the revolutionary war, will stop around 2-million, 768-thousand 103.

The Storm Across The Valley

What a glorious time for me. I was outdoors most of the day and saw playful storm clouds tease the mountains with dancing light and shadows as on and off passing showers spread a few sprinklings to the valley where I stood in awe.

The distance, as a singular and sentient entity, used the Sun as a Hollywood director would and lit the far off mountains with a colorful purple brilliance that few see in a lifetime, let along in a single day. The light was a prayer with no words. It was a personal caressing with no touch. It was a symphony with a score of shadows and crescendos’ brilliance.

And then I moved to another place of peace and there, as if it were a package tied, decorated and ready to be unwrapped by all who saw it was a high definition opening in a canopy of green to the heightened May blue of sky.

High, very high, and circling was a Golden Eagle. I do not know whether it was male or female. It did not matter for the Sun’s reflection on its under-wings made it a precious idol, an auric icon of the Great Spirit’s manifestation on the earth and that was enough for me.

I have seen and felt the same God-presence in the beauty of a Rose. I have seen and felt the same spiritual connection in the fragrance of a pine forest after a summer rain and in the drifts of sparkling snow as they pillow white softness upon the earth. I have seen and felt the same oneness in the tunes of little birds when they sing their songs.

The eagle is now gone and so is the light on the mountains, but not the beauty, not the fragrance, not the aroma, not the sparkle, nor the songs, for they are forever, not only within my heart, but within my words.

I wish you could have been there!

Brain Cancer

The announcement that Senator Edward Kennedy has a form of brain cancer brings to mind these thoughts.

Most of us know someone who has had cancer, or has cancer or who has died of cancer. It is an insidious disease. It is indiscriminate and it is a life altering challenge, not only for those diagnosed with its various forms, but also for the family and friends of the afflicted.

Whenever these kinds of announcements come fourth that a celebrity is stricken, it reminds all of us of our vulnerability. Somehow we think the famous or the wealthy are immune to disease because they appear to have everything. The truth is that illness is the common denominator of all humans for we are finite beings.

What every cancer, every disease says to everyone of us, is that life is precious and fragile and fleeting and that all of us are vulnerable and maybe some of the things we call important aren’t really.

My son Lee died of brain cancer nine years ago. He was 31. I talk about this, not because I choose to share a personal grief, but because he was a great teacher and some of the things he taught by being the evidence of them, may be of value to you as it is to me.

Lee knew he was on a short life line. Cancer tends to focus one’s thinking on the finiteness of life, yet he never complained, despite three brain operations, chemotherapy and radiation and the debilitation that goes with those encounters.

Lee lived for the moment. To complain, he felt, wasted precious time and energy that he could use for healing. He chose to enjoy and embrace every minute of life and to gracefully enthuse everyone with whom he came in contact. His humor was infectious and he always chose to be positive even when another choice would be easier.

Lee also taught me that parents must love their children for themselves, not love ourselves, through our children. What a great lesson. And by example he taught that there is dignity in dying and that the spirit always dances.

Judge Frank (Francis) Vogt

Frank Vogt died the other day. He was 85. Most of you won’t know him. That’s the way it is in life. You know some, you meet some, you stay in touch and you get to hang out together for a moment or two. We each have the opportunities in our lives to touch a little piece of another’s life and if we’re lucky it resonates with our own and something called friendship results.

We come into the glorious existence called life to live a little, cry a little, laugh a little, love a little and then we pass, leaving a shadow of memory for family and a few friends and acquaintances who linger in this density for only a little while longer till we too move into the beyond of corporal understanding.

I knew Frank Vogt in a very small way, but it was a big knowing for his credentials in life’s work amplified the personal persona that he shared with friends and colleagues. I knew of him as a former FBI agent, I knew he was a District Attorney, a judge, and those accomplishments were part of his professional life. I knew he was a father and a husband and a friend to many. I knew that he laughed easily and could turn a phrase with wit. What I really knew of Frank Vogt was that he was an intelligent conversationalist, a fun partner in golf, an elegant competitor and a man who always remembered the little things that mattered to me and I suspect in private personal conversations also to others.

When a body dies, when a soul passes to other realms, it is truly a time to rejoice for the soul has finished what it came here to do. All endings should have a celebration. Our earthly farewell to Frank should be as glorious as his welcome home in that other place we all deeply know exists, but are too often hesitant, and too timid to acknowledge as the truth of being.

Goodbye Frank, we’ll all see you soon and thanks for all your courtesies. The eternal light is now brighter.