Service, Sacrifice and Gratitude
After I completed an intense and rewarding couple of days as the keynote speaker at the Earth Expo in Iowa City I drove to Cedar Rapids, where my recently widowed sister lives along with other members of my family. I planned to take Monday after the weekend conference as a time to do so. Sunday night I arrived in Cedar Rapids and set up in my hotel room. I dressed in layers and took a walk in the slightly damp and (to my California senses) cold air, yet enjoyed being bundled up and buffered from the cold air by the layers I was wearing.
I notice the sound of metal clanging against metal and sought out the source. I looked across the parking lot and there was a flagpole with the American flag on top and what appeared to be the state flag of Iowa. I was surprised to see that the flag was at half-mast and then noted that at another flagpole further away, the flags there were also at half-mast. I didn’t recall anything from the headlines that would suggest why this was happening, such as a major political figure had died.
I then called my sister to tell her I’d made it and would get together with her tomorrow. I commented on the flags and she told that whenever any soldier from the city died in combat, all the flags in the city were lowered and schools were let out early.
After we finished speaking I gazed back at the nearby flagpole, this time with a different meaning. Beyond feelings, opinions, beliefs about war, here was a symbol of a young man who gave his life for some purpose in which he believed-the ultimate sacrifice-one an entire city acknowledged through this tribute. Perhaps our entire country should do the same whenever someone gives their life in combat. It caused me to feel not only sad but also proud to live in this country, that in spite of the laundry list of faults and criticisms that can and have been heaped upon us, it is still a great country and we are so privileged to live here.
Then I noticed Grandmother Moon rising just above this flagpole, shedding her fading but still strong light as she gradually returns to the silence and darkness of her rebirth at the new moon. The generous gift of her beauty as she rose upward to eventually cross the sky highlighted the flagpole and caused me to think of how many gifts we do receive each day and each night.
I realized that as we enter this solstice season, with all the celebrations and ceremonies, in some fundamental way it truly is about giving and receiving with gratitude whatever gifts we give and whatever gifts we receive. Not so much the material things, but the less tangible gifts from the heart; those of listening, sharing, loving, and expressing as much thankfulness as possible. So share the gift of your love and gratitude throughout the turning of the light that occurs at the solstice.