Kathy and I celebrated Memorial Day by hosting her family and our friends the Barrows with our first barbecue of the summer, which featured our first go-round with her dad’s grill, which is now our grill. (Our old grill is a disgusting fire hazard, plus it’s become a safe haven for hornets, so we are so relieved to be able to put it out of commission once and for all.) The meal was wonderful, and it climaxed with a surprise dessert which my niece Lorelai helped me to unveil – a spectacular stars and stripes cake which I saw at Pick n Save and absolutely had to have. I know there is something commendable and lovely about homemade cake, but I must confess to a love affair with “store-bought” cake – especially when it’s frosted as spectacularly as this one was. And I liked how it served as one more reminder that yesterday was not National Picnic Day or National Day Off Day – but Memorial Day. And towards that end, our table grace last night was “America the Beautiful,” the finest of any of our country’s patriotic songs and a reminder of what we have to be thankful for.
And later on, we watched the 20th annual Memorial Day Concert from Washington D.C. – which featured a cavalcade of sparkling stars. . . but there is no doubt whatsoever that the most important person on the Washington Mall that night was not Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise, but rather one Jose Lequeno, an Iraqi war vet who suffered a terribly devastating brain injury- the kind which one can scarcely imagine someone surviving. His story was recounted in the words of his mother and younger sister – as delivered so movingly by award- winning actresses Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes. (The only thing I would have changed was the overly-saccharine music that the National Philharmonic played in the background – a perfect example of how music can either enhance or diminish a moment. Fortunately, this moment was too powerful to be fatally undermined by a poor musical choice.) And when the story finished up, the camera moved to the front of the audience, and there was Jose himself with his mother and younger sister on either side of him. This wonderful young man – both an athlete and musician, devoted to his family, an admired law enforcement office back home – lost nearly everything with this horrific injury, In fact, almost all he has left is his family’s unwavering love and devotion. I found it quite extraordinary that the organizers of this concert would show the horrific cost of war so openly. (A consultant advising the military on improving recruitment would certainly suggest that such images be kept securely behind closed doors.) But to do anything less is to do a grave disservice to all those who have courageously given so much for the sake of our nation. This is Memorial Day- not just remembering the dead, but also remembering those who live but who continue to suffer. And at the end of the day, that matters a whole lot more than Jon and Kate’s marital difficulties or who wore what at Racine’s prom.