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Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day specifically set aside as a national holiday to pay tribute to the men and women of the military who lost their lives in the service of our country. I won’t bother to ramble on about all the things it shouldn’t be and is, because I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

I will share that yes, we did barbecue today as I’m sure many Americans did. I went to the grocery store Monday afternoon to pick up a couple of items needed for said barbecue. There was a National Guard reservist shopping there with his wife–maybe getting ready for their own barbecue. I don’t often see active military in my neighborhood, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to thank him for his service to our country. I’m not sure what I expected his response to be, but I was caught off guard by his seemingly equal measure of surprise and what seemed to be mild embarrassment to be shaking hands with a complete stranger and saying “You’re welcome” in the frozen foods section of Kroger.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by his reaction.

Pride and pageantry is best left to the politicians and the media.

Honor is often such a quiet thing.

Happy Memorial Day.

Words too often overused

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I think it’s commonly accepted that the word love is overused. If I were to say I love Jesus, I love my family and I love a good pair of flip flops all in the same breath, you’d have to wonder (and hope, I would imagine) that I’m speaking about varying degrees of love.

But love is not the only word bandied about to a point where it’s lost some of its impact.

The Merriam-Webster definition of hero is as follows:

a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b : an illustrious warrior
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d : one who shows great courage
a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement
plural usually he·ros : submarine 2
: an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

So when I see the word hero associated with a sandwich,

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or a video game,

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or even a professional athlete,

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I wonder if we don’t downplay what the true meaning of a hero is.

The following video from Worship House Media was played in church Sunday. It is a moving reminder of all the fallen heroes who gave so much for what many of us too often take for granted. (Hopefully, your computer will allow you to view it full screen.)

We remember our fallen heroes today and we are grateful.

(Note: If you can’t view this video, please click on the link to Worship House Media above and watch it on their website.)

On War and Fishing (by Billy Coffey)

We stood far enough away from one another to not to tangle our lines but still be within speaking distance. Because when two men go fishing, conversation is just as essential as a pole and some water.

The last time Kirk and I had gone fishing, he had cussed the water and the fish and the pole he was using, drank a six-pack of beer, and spoke of his latest conquest—the cashier down at the Dairy Queen. Typical, I suppose, of a nineteen-year-old male. I listened patiently, waiting for a sufficient break in his bragging to suggest he grow up and get on in his life. In the three hours we fished, I barely said a word.

Four years and a few months later, we stood on that same riverbank with those two same fishing poles, and Kirk still talked. But as he spoke and I listened, I knew things were different now. Kirk had changed.

Time does that to a person. So does war.

When he told me three years ago he was joining the army, I told him it was the best thing he could do. He needed the discipline, I said. Besides, the only jobs around here were either on farms or in factories, and Kirk was cut out for neither.

We both knew what joining the army meant. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging, and every headline of every newspaper was filled with the latest casualties. But neither of us mentioned the fact that Kirk would be heading off to war. It was simply a given.

A few weeks after boot camp, Kirk got his orders. He was going to Iraq.

His mother tied a yellow ribbon on the big oak tree in their front yard, and Kirk was put on the prayer lists of just about every church within ten miles. Every once in a while I would hear bits and pieces about where he was and how he was doing, and we would exchange emails when we could, but for the most part he was there and I was here and time moved on.

Then, out of the blue, he called me on Saturday. “I’m back,” he said. “How ‘bout some fishin’?”

I never asked him what it was like. Never asked him what he felt or what he did or what he saw. I just said that I was glad he was back safe and sound. But as the afternoon wore on and the fish refused to bite, he began to share some of the things that weighed on his heart.

The things you see in the movies about war? About brave men withstanding a hail of gunfire and coming out without a scratch? That doesn’t happen. In real life those bullets are real and they don’t care whose flesh they puncture, whether it’s a soldier or a terrorist or a five-year-old girl.

And the love of country? That’s there. Always and without a doubt. But Kirk didn’t see himself as someone laying down his life for his country, he saw himself as someone willing to die for his friends. For his brothers. Because God gives you one family, and war gives you another.

Don’t read the papers, he said. Because the papers only print what they want to print, and not the truth. The truth? The truth is that you would be amazed at what’s happening in Iraq. There are schools and hospitals. There are smiles. There is freedom. If there was one thing that Kirk hated, it was the fact that the war had become less about the men and women fighting it and more about the politicians using it for their own gains.

But most of all, Kirk learned this:

We cheapen life. We no longer hold it as special. As sacred. And because we don’t, war will always be a part of this world. People can work for peace as much as they want, and they should, but in the end we are all dark inside. There will forever be the need for men and women to stand guard for the rest of us. They will sacrifice their peace so we may be able to enjoy ours.

Four years and a few months ago, I stood by that river and fished with a boy. Saturday, I stood there and fished with a man.

There are plenty of people who think of this day as the beginning of summer. A day off. A chance to barbeque and relax. But from now on, I will be thinking of Kirk. Not because of how far he’s come.

Because of what he had to endure to get there.

To read more of Billy’s writing, visit him at What I Learned Today.