It happened once on September 26, 1996, the night the Texas Rangers clinched the American League West for the first time ever. I was driving home on Central Expressway. Then there was the time at the Trail Dust Steakhouse in Denton, on March 4, 2001, after the house band played the first few bars of 'San Antonio Rose.' Another time I was sitting on the rickety front porch of a mobile home in Lake Dallas, drinking beer from a cooler on a hot muggy evening, while waiting for the spray to dissipate from a bug bomb inside our trailer. The stereo inside was cranked up so we could hear it with the windows and doors closed, but we had neglected to leave a light on and it was dark outside. And it also happened, unexpectedly, on Easter, in 2008, after a relatively routine visit to the hospital.
I'm sure it happens more than I care to admit or remember. Perhaps because it's not something I would typically record for posterity. Today, however, was truly surprising. I thought I should make a note.
In 1996 I was driving home alone from the hospital the day my son was born. The Trail Dust in 2001 was just dinner out with a bunch of friends from church, though it was the day after Dad's funeral. Lake Dallas was college days, and like so many of them, I was drinking beer, probably Coors, with Ed. We were no doubt solving the mysteries of life with our educated and worldly wise perspective. Easter 2008 was when my niece Colby was born. And today, well, was just another Sunday, which makes it all the more puzzling.
Today our church had planned a July 4th celebration. After services we served hot dogs, apple pie and ice cream in the fellowship hall. We had a short choir program of patriotic songs planned, and our service veterans brought memorabilia and medals and photos and uniforms to display. My wife is chair of the Congregational Life committee so for the last several years I have approached each of these events with more of a sense of obligation than anticipation. As I was grilling hot dogs I even lamented to one of my friends that it would be awful nice to simply roll out of bed on Sunday morning, come to worship and then go home, but it always seems like there is something 'extra' to do ... the curse of having a limited volunteer pool.
Our church is not big, we have about 250 members, and with the holiday weekend chances were the crowd wouldn't be huge, and it wasn't. We served about 100 people. It was a typical fellowship event. We ate before the preacher had a chance to say the blessing. Several people went straight to the dessert table, bypassing the longer line for hot dogs. Kids put too much on their plate, and everyone praised the food, more for its spirit than its quality, I'm sure.
The memorabilia table was quite impressive. Who knew we had so many distinguished service people in our congregation? I was truly humbled.
The choir sang a medley of service anthems ... there were caissons and anchors, wild blue yonders and the shores of Tripoli. The audience sang along. As the different anthems were sung people would stand in support of the branch in which they had served. I was at the back of the room, watching men and women stand with pride, and I was humbled again. I grew up and started my adult life in the time between Vietnam and the first Gulf War, and I know I have benefited from the sacrifice and service of these men and women. I have always appreciated those who served, because I do not know if I could have, but often wonder if it's dutiful obligation or sincere appreciation that I'm feeling. Today, at church, with those members I've come to respect and admire standing and singing, I realized that their service was not out of obligation, but out of love, and that no other reason would suffice for the risk and committment required of them. They must have gladly served. And I'm sincerely glad they did.
It actually happened when the choir sang a few verses from 'O Beautiful' and finished up with 'God Bless America' ... something about God or blessings or being purposefully moral ... I'm not sure exactly what caused it.
O beautiful for heroes proved... and then ...
In liberating strife.
Who more than self
their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,I'm leaning against the back wall watching old, sometimes frail, men scattered throughout the room, singing with pride. I see a young man in his current uniform, with his daughter and his parents, and I recognize the pride I have for him. I see boys in scout uniforms respecting their country and their elders, preparing to be men some day. I see mothers whose sons serve, and wives who supported their husband's service. And I see that it is love, not pride or greed or arrogance or the pursuit of power, that enables these people, these every day people, these Americans, to achieve 'more than self.' And I cried.
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
Okay, technically, I didn't cry. I just sort of misted up. And now that I think about it, it could probably be attributed to the smoke from grilling hot dogs.
That night driving home on my son's birthday? I did have the windows open. It was probably air pollution, and not the awe of new born life mixed with the fear of parenting, that made me rub my eyes.
And it's much more plausible that the stuffed jalapenos at the Trail Dust watered my eyes, not those corny Bob Wills lyrics that Dad used to sing when we rattled around the Texas panhandle in any number of old trucks.
That night at the trailer? Well, yes, we did talk a little about his brother Buddy's funeral, and how seeing his family suffer from a distance impacted me, but those bug bombs were pretty strong and I'm sure we caught a whiff or two because the air was so heavy and still.
Colby's birthday? Well, of course I was happy that this precious little girl was born to such wonderful parents, that always makes you feel good because good parents are hard to find! But it was probably more a function of driving back from San Antonio that day ... you know, the weather and pollen count can change a lot in a couple of hours of driving in Texas.
Yeah. That's it. It was probably just the old allergies acting up.