At times, this fall has felt like a relentless barrage of sadness. People I know have lost loved ones at way too young an age or are fighting terrible battles with illness. Somber music from the morning news show this week told me there had been yet another mass shooting. Part of our country is burning from wildfires and part of it is still trying to recover from devastating hurricanes. Hatred has wrapped its tentacles around many of us so tightly, we can’t breathe, let alone speak to each other. When so much of what we consider sacred—human decency, truth and dignity in government, acceptance of those who are different from us, lies in the street like broken shards of glass after a night of rioting, it’s easy to lose your perspective.
But in the midst of the chaos, there are occasionally, what our rector calls, “holy moments.” I’ve experienced some of those recently in situations where I wouldn’t necessarily expect them, and when they happen, they provide a whispery sigh of relief, something to cling to in the midst of this hot mess we’re making of the world right now. A couple of silvery stars poking their heads through the darkness.
This morning, I watched an elderly parishioner, clinging to his walker, shuffle up the aisle to take communion. He now waits at the chancel steps for communion to be brought to him, but he’s still not ready to succumb to pew communion. He’s a delightfully feisty character and always happy to share his opinion. Today, in honor of Veterans Day, he wore his overseas cap with the words “Purple Heart” inscribed along the side, tilted jauntily on his white hair. After he received the bread and wine, he turned and faced the congregation and gave a crisp salute. As he made his way back to his seat, the congregation spontaneously rose and gave him a standing ovation, something that rarely happens in the context of our worship service. Before he sat down, he said, “Thank you. I love you all.” There were very few dry eyes in the sanctuary.
Most of us have no concept of what those who fought (and continue to fight) for our freedom and served our country endured. I grew up in the Viet Nam era and can remember wearing a silver POW bracelet in fourth grade with the name of a soldier captured or missing in action. My uncles fought in World War II and I think my mother lost the first love of her life in that war, but that was never part of their conversation at the holiday dinner table. They did what they had to do and, perhaps to their own detriment, never talked about it.
Now we take so much for granted. We yammer on about our wants and needs and how we may be damaged from this or that perceived slight, and yet, most of us have no clue what it means to serve, to willingly give up one’s life for the greater good. I don’t think we can begin to understand what it means to be damaged until we walk the halls of a veterans hospital.
I wanted to not only thank that lovely gentleman for his service but also for providing a poignant reminder of what truly matters. That the rest of us wouldn’t be sitting there today, smug and complacent and free to worship in whatever manner we choose, were it not for his bravery and that of thousands of others just like him. And that through that simple salute, he offered us all a much-needed holy moment.