Memorial Day

I looked at the Caller ID and saw a name I wasn’t expecting; the conversation quickly turned from polite pleasantries to an offer that was too tempting to refuse: riding in the annual Rolling Thunder event for Memorial Day. I’d bumped into my stepfather’s longtime friend at my night job, and when he decided to rent a Harley for the holiday weekend, he thought it’d be cool to have his best bud’s quasi-daughter along for the journey. And what a journey it was. DC can be a cold city; suddenly sitting on the back of that bike there was warmth and humanity; everyone would smile at you, wave at you, make you feel like you were one of them, accepted without question, without care. My fear quickly disappeared (I’ve had some pretty bad/horrifying experiences with motorcycles) as I started to focus more on the magnitude of the event. We parked by the Pentagon and walked around admiring the intricacies of the artwork on the motorcycles. As we got to the city, part of this larger-than-life experience, I felt very humbled by the serenity of the people gazing upon the walls of the memorials, etching the names of their loved ones in a somber, dignified ritual. For some reason, the memory of my friends who had gone to battle wasn’t weighing on me; I was transfixed by the eloquence of the city that usually seemed so blunt, so hard.
That was three years ago.
Seeing the Rolling Thunder this year was now more of a reminder of the passing of my stepfather back in March than of the occasion and holiday itself. The next time I saw that name appear on my Caller ID, it was to remember and honor my stepfather’s life, not to ride on a Harley. I decided to shift my thinking a bit and dug out some letters I’d received from various [military friends] back in the 90s. It’s amazing how different it is to read those words now, to be able to see things I couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see then. Perspective.