Recently I attended the military funeral service for one of my relatives. As I sat there quietly under a gazebo in the beautiful cemetery, listening to “Taps” playing through the trees, I found myself swelling with patriotism. Even with the sadness of the death that brought us all together – family, friends and strangers in uniform – the prevailing emotion was pride. Later I wondered, “Why don’t more areas of our government feel like this?”
There are few sacred spaces in American discourse now. Most of us will freely discuss and debate religion, the economy, sexual habits, racism…you name it and one talk show host or another has exhaustively covered previously taboo subjects. Yet, somehow, a certain amount of reverence has been preserved for those men and women who sacrificed for our country.
Sure, topics surrounding that sacrifice are still fair game. Are the wars justified to protect us or do they make us ultimately less safe? Do they cost too much or is no expense too great? Should the American Sniper be considered a role model or a cautionary tale? What can we do to protect those in the military during battle, from the hardships of returning home and, sometimes, from each other? Yet, the service itself – the notion that these people put their lives on hold at the very least and sometimes paid the ultimate price – still commands a level of dignity that we don’t often see these days.
Republican, Democrat or Independent there is one thing most of us could mutually bash and that’s politicians in our government. We tend to give them a pass because it’s difficult to get things done when you disagree so deeply. But why does the difference in their political parties give our elected officials an excuse to not do the best job they can for America? The naval officers who presided over my grandfather’s service did not ask about his voter registration. They probably didn’t know much about each other’s politics either. They knew they had an important job to do for one of their own and they did it spectacularly without any regard to the differences they might have had.
His rank never came into question either. Thousands of men and women have been laid to rest in that particular cemetery and it the job of that staff to ensure that every single one of them – from the youngest Private to the most decorated Sergeant Major – was treated with dignity. The notion that every one of their lives mattered is not a suggestion or a platitude. It is a command of the highest order. Imagine if our citizens felt that way after any other interaction with a government agency.
Our soldiers and veterans come from every walk of life and their unique experiences span generations, yet they come together to perform acts of heroism – large and small – every single day. I realize that our nation’s problems are complicated and that politics can be divisive, but perhaps we would be more successful at improving our lives if we began by treating each other with the level of respect our military gives to those that have passed.