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Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

I wrote this some years back about an experience that shook me visibly at a Veteran's Musuem. Though my writing style has altered and matured in the intervening years, the sentiment stays the same. No veteran should ever be forgotten.

That is a lofty exhortation; but if we try to make it happen, we will honor our ignored heroes greatly.

The warm texas sun glistened off the beautiful statue. I had never seen anything like it. It was mammoth, made out of bronze, I believe, and fitting in its simplicity. The soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima is a powerful sight in itself, but to see it so huge was a truly fitting tribute to those marines who gave everything they had so that we could have everything we want. Sound trite? These statements get bandied about a good deal, but they carry extreme importance. It's close to impossible to justly capture what these people gave in service of their country.

We were in South Texas on that warm March day. Our vacation was coming to a close, and we could definetely call this trip a success. The birding had been good, the people friendly and the scenery gorgeous.

But we had some time to kill before our plane took off, so my Dad pulled this destination out of the thin blue air. I have no idea how he found this place in a state we had never been in before, but find it we did. It was a memorial to the Marines who served in the Pacific, with a special emphasis on Iwo Jima.

The special emphasis came in the form of a huge gold statue in the middle of a field. It was awe inspiring, and I wish I could remember more. I have photos, but they don't seem to do justice to this triumph of sculpture. There was a lot of information about the sculpter, but I can't recall any of it.

But I do recall the gift shop. There were mugs, DVDs, mouse-pads, T-Shirts, you name it, it was probably in there. It also doubled as a museum, where a large number of school-children were taking a tour. The noise grated on my nerves, so I moved to a corner where a large number of sweatshirts and hats would muffle the cacophany of giggles and screams.

In the corner of this room was a standard fold up chair. It was empty, but I turned around and heard the soft shuffle of wise feet heading toward it. I glanced behind me and saw a veteran of the USMC working his careful way to the chair.

Then I brokedown.

I had wanted to go up and laud him for his wonderful service to his country. I wanted to tell him all the wonderful things I had experienced because he believed that the "master race" needed to go no further. His actions allowed me to grow up in a christian home, not worrying if I was not living up to a standard. Without him, and others like him, I would not be able to see the fifty-two birds I had on this trip...

But I brokedown.

Just to see his frail old frame sitting there, lonely, desolate, forgotten by most of the people he worked to keep free, stirred something unmentionable in me. It grabbed my soul and tore down my defenses.

I had grand things to say to him, but I couldn't bring myself to say them.
I shook his hand, stared him directly in the eye, and thanked him. He may not have heard, because my voice was cracking with emotion. Then I went into the map room and felt the storm of emotions well up inside.

I spent the plane ride home reading, catergorizing my life birds, and thinking. Had I said enough to the man in red? Did I say too much? Did he think me crazy for the visible discomfort on my face as we talked? I don't know because my emotions got the better of me at the time.

Now six or seven months have gone by. Birds have migrated through, graduation has come and gone, girlfriends have come and gone, work, play, college, all these things have had their season in my life and have passed. But I silently hope that honored old man still sits in that museum/gift shop. I hope he sits there as an immutable reminder to us all, of the courage and sacrifice of all veterans.

Thank a Veteran any Day.

Thank God for what he's given us in them.

I'm sharing this with Brag On God Fridays.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breath of God

For seven months of the year, we tend to take trees for granted. In Southern New Jersey particularly, the notion of driving by hundreds of these majestic creations is something taken as matter of fact .

But come October, the trees announce their presence in earnest; they herald their existence in exclamations too loud to miss. Like tragic heroes about to die, they make their presence known in a most dramatic fashion.

Lining our roadsides in large numbers, sassafras trees give a wide variety of colors come the fall. These trees paint with a palette that encompasses anything from light green to deep red.

Unlike the other wildlife I like to observe, trees sit still long enough to let me make my judgments about their aesthetic appeal. At times, they seem straight and narrow, as plain as any other tree.

But viewed from underneath, the leaves become a dazzling kaleidoscope of bewildering reds and greens.

This black gum shows the typical fall foliage of the species; various shades of red, usually leaning toward the darker shade of the spectrum.

And here's a close up view of black gum leaves:

But these creatures of beauty are not just pretty faces. This winged sumac shrub provides valuable seeds for migrating songbirds. This particular shrub shows the grapple between life and death, summer and autumn.

Trees are valuable to God as well. He references them numerous times in the writing of his word; whether it's comparing the strength of a nation to the cedars of lebanon, or comparing the strength of the godly to a tree planted by a river, it's hard to get away from these wondrous creations in God's testament.

We should be thankful for this time of year; a time when God lets his less appreciated creation strut their stuff. We also need the reminder about how crucial these trees are to our well being.

They absorb sunlight in large amounts, letting us enjoy their shade.

They give us the wood with which we shelter just about everything we hold dear.

They produce the oxygen necessary for survival, giving off the breath of God.

And these few reasons barely scratch the surface of the benefits given by these sleeping giants. We have much to praise God for in the gift of these woody beauties.

And if the awe and wonder of a sassafras tree gone up in metaphorical flames were the only reason to give thanks, that would be reason enough.
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