It’s hard to play the trumpet when you’re crying. But I do, most every Memorial Day for the past 16 years since I moved to Durango, Colorado.
Back then, I saw a sign that said “estate sale” and I was looking for furniture for my new home so I stopped in. I saw an old bugle on a table and asked if I could try it. The two fellows running the sale, a bit scruffy and in their forties, said “sure.” I blew a few notes on the bugle and their eyes lit up. “You’re a BUGLER?” “We NEED a bugler!”
Turns out they were Viet Nam Veterans and this group liked to have their own special service on Memorial Day. They asked me if I’d play “Taps” for them. Every year, they have been one of the most grateful audiences for whom I’ve ever played. And I am grateful for the opportunity to serve them in some small way, considering the service they have given all of us.
To start the ceremony, Chris reads a poem. Then as he reads the names of soldiers who have died in current wars, members of the audience come forward and lay a red rose at the foot of the monument.
Some, including children, come to attention and give a smart salute to the flag. Some are older veterans in uniform, perhaps on oxygen or limping with a cane. Hearing the names of Colorado soldiers, their hometown and the date on which they died makes the wars much more personal and each strikes my heart.
I mentioned to Chris afterward the service was much shorter this year. “Because the war in Iraq has ended, we only have roses for those who have died in Afghanistan this year,” he replied. “We’re hoping to not have any next year.” I hope so, too.
Next, everyone is asked to call out the name of anyone who has died or been wounded in any of the wars. Some veterans call out many names. It is cathartic and poignant, this public sharing of tribute. Lastly, while the color guard stands at attention, the guard of mixed ages and beliefs fires off a 21-gun salute over the river (thanks for not pointing those rifles in my direction this year, guys!) It is then time for me to play “Taps”, which I do with tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s really hard to keep it together, but I pray for the grace to play beautifully and it is granted to me, once more.
I am filled with gratitude on many levels. As I continue to practice breaking open my heart with compassion, I find that I cry more easily at the hurts of the world and also at the happiness of the world. While it’s not even noon yet, I feel a bit drained from the emotion of the morning. And I feel alive. So many soldiers, not just in our country, are not alive any more. I marvel at their sacrifice. Thank you to all those who, through your service, afford me the opportunity to live a life where I needn’t live in fear and get to pursue happiness.
ALL of us have gifts. It could be the desire to serve one’s country, the ability to play the trumpet, the capacity for compassion, a talent for teaching or any number of things great and small. To be fully human, it is our duty to share our gifts. Memorial Day is a powerful reminder of this. What are your gifts? How will you ensure that others benefit from them? The world is waiting…
Ginger Jenks, MCC