The other day I was driving somewhere with the girls down a relatively well-traveled road. I noticed ahead of me a couple of motorcycle cops with flashing lights, and at a stoplight they did a couple of circles in the intersection and then proceeded to head my way. There was a red light ahead of me, but the line of cars I was in didn't move even when there was a large space between them.
I was confused for about a half a second until I saw the motorcycles. Dozens and dozens of them, all riding behind the police motorcycle escort. Every summer there is a big motorcycle ride, I don't know where all it goes, but it always drives by the lake. The sound of a couple hundred Harley's makes the air shake. I called to the girls and told them to look out the window because they were about to see something very special. Seeing as how it was Veteran's Day weekend, I figured this was a fundraising ride of some sort and rolled down my window and gave a thumbs up, and waved for a moment.
The men all drove past. Staring straight ahead. In perfect rows of three. And then I looked further down the road, saw a long line of cars with headlights and small red flags stretched out as far as I could see, and sandwiched in between them and the motorcycles was a gold hearse.
Boy I felt like a dumbass.
Not a fundraising ride. A funeral. A funeral for a soldier.
I don't know if it was an active duty or veteran, but it really didn't matter.
Sam had started her running dialogue of questions when I tell her to look at something, and for a moment I couldn't answer her. The lump in my throat wouldn't let me. A couple of tears let loose and then I was able to compose myself as car after car after car passed me.
I have never really known a soldier. My grandfather was in the Navy, but he never really talked about it, I never asked about it, and he died when I was in college. None of my good friends from high school enlisted. I didn't hang with the ROTC crowd in college. And even though my dad's cousin's son (first cousin once-removed?) is in the Army, I don't know him well and we would only see each other about once a year. So it isn't like I have close, personal experiences with soldiers. The closest I have come is watching Army Wives. (and yes, I understand that doesn't count)
But I have heard stories. I have seen photos, read books, watched documentaries, and of course M*A*S*H. (as if that counts too) Certain stories stick with me. War sucks. I've never lost anyone that I was super duper close to, much less had them killed in a foreign country probably scared out of their minds.
So I have empathy. And respect. And seeing a parade of veterans on motorcycles honoring their fallen comrade tugs at my heartstrings.
When Sam asked who died, I told her a soldier. She asked what a soldier is. How do you explain soldiers and war to a four year old girl who is scared of the dark and dinosaurs and loud noises? I'm not even sure what I said, something about a guy wearing a uniform with a gun who goes far away to other countries to help people. She was quiet and then started asking questions about panda bears. I was fine with that.
I think as a country we are getting better at thinking of veterans more than just on Veterans Day. We see the difficulty their families have while they are gone, the trouble they have when attempting to acclimate back into normal life, and the wounds they have suffered...inside and out. And that is a good thing.
Of all the people I have never met in this world, hands down the person I respect the most is a soldier. And that is how it should be.