I think of myself as a positive person who appreciates life’s blessings – at least most of the time – but then these moments will occur when I realize that there is this other side of me which is way too quick to see the inconveniences of life as undeserved suffering. . . and it’s a case of a Humble Pie being splattered right in my face.
The latest installment in this saga happened today at Racine’s Fourth of July Parade. We usually start off the parade by watching it in front of Evangelical United Methodist Church, which is where Kathy’s family belongs. At one point I ventured over to the church’s concession stand, partly because a voice student of mine was supposed to be working there (but I didn’t see him.) I wasn’t hungry but to do my part for a good cause, I bought a bag of popcorn for $1, only then to be told that they were out of popcorn but making more. (I was told this without the magic words “I’m sorry” being said – towards the top of my list of pet peeves.) So I stood there – and stood there – and stood there – and after seven minutes of standing there (I know because I checked my watch) I switched my order from popcorn to a Twix candy bar just so I could get on with my life. . . and walked away muttering something under my breath about incompetent concession stand operation. (If you want to make me crabby, make me wait for food. . .or inconvenience me without apologizing.)
As I got back to the parade route, I was feeling mighty irritated – and then realized that at that very moment, passing before us, was the amazing Remember Iwo Jima float. . . with real live veterans recreating that iconic photograph of the American flag being planted there in the face of blistering, bitter resistance from the Japanese. As always happens (at least in Racine) people on both sides of the streets were on their feet, clapping and cheering . . . and suddenly the inconvenience of waiting seven minutes for popcorn did not seem quite so significant as it had just a few moments before. Not when one thinks of the kind of suffering which occurred on that island on the other side of the world. (In a weird repeat, Kathy and I stopped at Cousin’s Subs on our way home and had some bad luck because the person ahead of us had to have their order completely re-entered into the cash register because of some snafu. Kathy was in the restroom when the mess began, and when she came out again she couldn’t understand why I was still second in line and nothing seemed to have happened; she hadn’t heard what the problem was about nor the cashier’s very sincere apology to those of us stuck waiting. Anyway, just as I saw her starting to get a bit perturbed, I leaned over to her and whispered in her ear “Iwo Jima.” I think that may be our own personal and private code when one of us sees the other getting a little too unhappy about something that doesn’t really warrant it. )
I think my conscience was pricked in part because earlier this week I interviewed the author of a book about returning soldiers of World War II and how – despite the stirring rhetoric of Tom Brokaw and others to the contrary – many soldiers came back from that conflict terribly troubled, traumatized and scarred. . . and there is nothing disrespectful in talking about that because it’s the only way we can weigh the complete human cost of that conflict.
All this reminds me of another interesting sight at today’s parade. As Kathy and I were making our way to join her family at EUM, we passed some of the people camped out in chairs at the very end of the parade route- including a somewhat heavyset middle-aged guy slouched in a lawn chair with a beer resting on his chest, half asleep. He was wearing a red white and blue tee shirt with the word FREEDOM emblazoned on it. I didn’t know the guy and have no way of knowing anything about him, and am most certainly guilty in this case of judging a book by its cover – but still I can’t quite shake that image from my mind. It just seemed sort of like a real-life, in-person political cartoon to depict complete and utter complacency about something very precious. And don’t get me wrong . . . I majored in Complacency and graduated Summa cum laude . . . but I’m grateful for each and every instance when I’m shaken loose from such immature attitudes and helped to feel new and profound appreciation for this nation and all who gave so much to make it what it is and to protect it.