Sunday, August 19, 2012

I overheard someone else say it, but I couldn't say it better.

"It's the hardest, best thing I've ever done."

The man's comment was in response to another person's expression of appreciation for his Patriot Guard mission. We were on our first mission. It won't be our last.

We've planned to join, procrastinated, and finally got our packet earlier this month. Desultorily I've looked at the mission forum, but nothing was convenient.

Patriot Guard is not about convenience.

It's about mission.

It's about dedication.

It's about paying homage to veterans. To heroes.

It's about America.

Yesterday a naval corpsman was being laid to rest in a town not from our city. The Patriot Guard were asked to escort him to his final resting place. And late the afternoon before the service, it was said that an infamous cult planned to protest the funeral.

We weren't planning anything else but chores and relaxation. So we decided to make this our first mission.

The day was hot and threatened storms. We geared up, stuck some water bottles in a cooler with an ice pack and headed out. Left early so we could have a nice lunch. We hit a little rain, nothing bad. Had our lunch and headed to the church where the funeral would be held.

At every major crossroads, bikes pulled in ahead or behind us. When we turned from the courthouse onto Main Street, we could see the turn to the church about a mile down the road. It was solid with bikes, law enforcement vehicles and civilian pickups ... even a few cars (this is Texas!). Flags lined the road from the courthouse to the church.

We were directed into a double-line along the curb, then asked to move across the street to form another double line. A large firetruck sat in the middle of the road on which we gathered, ladder up, Navy flag flying. Diesel engine rumbling. Various firefighters and law enforcement officers stood around, talking quietly.

Bikes kept arriving. We sought some shade, drank water. More bikes arrived. People were walking through the crowd. Many carried flags. Some dressed for the services. Some dressed to stand outside and show their respect. Almost all carried a cameras or used a cell phone to record the events.

Military personnel trickled through the crowd. Bright white navy uniforms. Army BDUs. Marine sported dress blues. All crowd members were friendly. All were somber. All were determined. Only a few showed anger at the thought of the protesters showing up. Few, if any, really believed they would. Again and again, people thanked bikers for coming. Bikers thanked law enforcement for their service. People offered water to strangers. Townspeople greeted one another.

As we obediently gathered for the safety meeting it struck me as incongruous: for so long the public perception has been that bikers are an anachronistic bunch. Yet here were well more than a hundred gathered, quietly and obediently going where pointed, standing in the sun for a military-style no-punches-held briefing that was anything but brief. Thorough, checklisted and reiterated yes. Brief, no.

Our instructions:
  • Our Purpose: Show respect.
  • Be safe.
  • Cell phones off.
  • All motors to start at one time.
  • Follow the Ride Captains in maroon.
  • No revving throttles.
  • Be flexible .. the order of service often changes.
  • Salute or stand with hand over heart when the casket is being moved into the church and into the hearse.
  • Flag Line: Large American flags were spaced around the church. At least one Patriot Guard Rider was to stand at each flag. Just stand. Don't talk. Don't fidget. No smoking. No drinking. Show respect. Start a half hour before service start is scheduled, until the service begins.
  • Motorcade Escort: The County Sheriff's vehicle will lead. Patriot Guard Riders will fall in behind the lead vehicles, and the hearse will follow. Two tailgunners will bring up the rear.
  • Ride in staggered double formation.
  • Be flexible.
  • Show respect.
  • Be safe.
Dismissed, we moved to a flag and stood the flag line. Thirty minutes in the Texas sun. A man dressed like a funeral director asked us to go in and sign the guest book, at the family's request. A long double line snaked to the guest books. The air conditioning felt so good. We wrote our names, added PGR and returned to our stations. People asked if they could take our pictures. People shook our hands and thanked us for coming. The sweat rolling down my cheeks masked the tears I couldn't hold back. I am blessed. My son came home .. all three times.

How could we do less?

Thunder began rumbling. A few flashes of lightining caused heads to rotate.

Still, people stood, quietly talking, or just standing. A few showed signs expressing love and patriotism.

A hush fell over the crowd. I've read that phrase so many times. Now I've felt it.

Backs straightened. Hands removed hats. Salutes were given. Hands covered hearts. All eyes faced the same direction. The casket made it slow journey from church to hearse.

The sheriff's vehicle began to move.

Ride Captains circled their hands and 175 motorcycles rumbled into life. The Ride Captain gave a few directions to latecomers, weaving their iron horses into the line.

Suddenly, the hearse cut the line.

We were flexible. Patriot Guard Riders in front and Patriot Guard Riders in back. Easy.

Except the lump in my throat, pride in my heart and tears in my eyes made it hard to see.

But I could see. I could see hundreds of people standing in the Texas heat to show respect to a hero who had volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, to a family whose son gave the ultimate sacrifice.

They lined the street as motorcycles filled the street.

They waved flags, or stood quietly with hand over heart.

Shopkeepers stepped outside and placed closed signs on their doors.

Families got out of cars and stood outside.

The rain started as the motorcade turned the corner. A few, slow sprinkles to show us God cries, too.

All along the 6.5 mile route to the cemetery, people stood. A small boy waved a flag from a pedestal in his driveway.

The storm hit. People stayed where they were, ignoring the rain, standing their ground. This is America. We honor our heroes. One small group stood together by a building. A young boy cried loudly in the rain, not understanding why his mother didn't protect him from the wet. Not understanding what he witnessed.

There were hundreds of witnessess that day. Cars lined the highway. Few failed to stop. Most of them were empty, their passengers standing at attention outside, acknowledging, Remembering. Respecting.

At the cemetery, the Patriot Guard Riders were directed into a street loop. We parked four abreast and walked slowly, silently to encircle the service. Showing respect. The rain stopped. Guns barked: the 21-gun salute. The Naval personnel left the service area in measured steps, Naval Whites gleaming. As the service continued, the rain came again, strong, heavy drops that became a torrent. Mud splashed. Just before the end of the service, the rain ceased for a time.

We slipped away, to furl our five flags, hoping to have them put away so other bikers wouldn't be delayed.

Not that any would have complained.

As we loaded the last flag and pulled out our rain gear, the others returned. Hands were shaken, nods given, and we departed one by one, going our separate ways, but united by a purpose.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Iris Johansen books

In the last few months I've been picking up books in the Eve Duncan forensic series by Iris Johansen. Unfortunately, I haven't read them in order .. And I've listened to a lot of them as well. They're compelling. Not sure why. I certainly have other, deeper, more spiritually-uplifting books laying around that I should be tackling. And I seriously doubt if I would like any of the main characters, should I meet them in person, if they were real.

what is it that pulls us into particular stories? Do I prefer series detective/mystery/suspense/thrillers because I am more comfortable with the familiar?

I am very, very glad that Ms. Johansen has moved to the suspense genre .. I grabbed one of her earlier audio books off the shelf at Half Price Books .. Apparently she used to write bodice-ripper romances .. Phooey! .. Not my kind of thing atall, atall .. I found myself driving down the road grumbling at the CD player .. Thankfully, HPB bought the silly thing back (but not before I finished it!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Elevator Adventures

Not all of my adventures occur in books. Here's a slightly edited version of the email I sent my son yesterday. Monday morning was, well, Monday morning.

About the time I got to sleep really good the power came back on. Any idea how many *#%!@ things we have in that house that beep very loudly when the power comes back on? I got up, turned lights and junk off and went back to bed. Seems like a noisy house once you've been exposed to everything off for a while! .. finally got back to sleep.

Headed to work, still storming. No problems there, just took a long time. Had a larger-than-usual Diet Dr. Pepper because I'd bought one at a convenience store since I was out at house. Drank all my water, too. Got to work, needing the little cowgirl's room. Parking Garage elevator to lobby .. ah, I'll wait till I get up on 9 to visit the little room. Unusually(because I was later than usual) there were several people in the elevator car with me. Stop at 2, 4 and 7. Oops. Doors don't open at 7. I'm not scared, I just need to pee! .. I REALLY need to pee!
I hit the alarm, make the call, text my boss. The guy who wanted out at 7 tries to pry the doors .. no luck. The lady on the elevator emergency phone says hold down the "Door Open" button a while, sometimes that works. I try that .. no luck. But after another couple minutes the guy tries the doors again. (I have not mentioned my need to pee). .. Hallelujah, the doors work.
I take two stories of stairs before I get to go .. so fun!
And how was your day yesterday?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A little maintenance

While helping out a loved one recently, I did some furniture polishing. I was amazed anew at how much the application of lemon oil brought a drab old table to life. The old dry grey wood took on new shine with a deep patina. The more I applied, the better it got.

I've been out of lemon oil at home for some time now. So I hit Target and brought home a fresh bottle of regular along with my first-ever purchase of lemon oil for dark wood.

Wow! My 30-year-old oak table that I refinished seven years ago was so thirsty. I could practically hear it sucking up the oil. I reapplied oil again today. The drab old table shines gloriously in the dining room now, looking loved and proud.

What happens when we delay maintenance on ourselves? Without the periodic application of oil, polish, lotion or lubricant -- albeit physical, spiritual or mental -- we get dry, thirsty and drab. Take time today. Polish something, someone or your self. Apply life-giving oil, whether it be a smile, a compliment, a random act of kindness, or a quick escape from the daily madness that is our workaday commute. Read from God's Word and let His loving kindness breathe new life into your spirit.

You'll come away with a new shine. And a smaile makes a pretty patina.