Several decades ago, in the Paleolithic non-cell-phone days of yore, I was a young single lad driving west by myself, headed toward California with many of my worldly possessions in my Chevy Malibu. I got tired of the endless ribbon of concrete that was the Interstate system, and decided to take a lesser-known path through the great state of Kansas.
It was a bit after midnight on a clear, star-studded evening. My destination that night was the city of Liberal, situated in the extreme southwest corner of the Sunflower State. Very few other vehicles were on the two-lane road I traveled. It would sometimes be miles before I saw another set of headlights.
During one such dark period, I heard a beep-beep, beep-beep sound, but I couldn’t identify its source. Certain movies that involved visitors from other worlds were popular at the time. So I quickly looked out every window to see if something from the sky was sending me a message. After several panicked moments, I came to the realization that the source of the alien communication was actually the alarm on the new watch I had recently purchased. It was buried in a suitcase in my back seat.
After my heartbeat returned to normal, I started thinking about how I truly was out of touch with the world out there on that lonely stretch of pavement. If there had really been a spaceship from the Milky Way that had wanted to scoop me up, absolutely nobody would have had a clue as to where I had disappeared. I felt at the time that I was pretty much alone in the universe.
Fast-forward those several decades until about ten days or so ago. I inadvertently left the house without my cell phone. When I realized its absence, I was way too far down the road to turn around and go back to retrieve it. So for the next six hours, I once again felt that total removal from civilization. Oh, I was among people this time, it was broad daylight, and there was no unidentified beeping going on, but without that lifeline that has become another appendage, I might as well have been alone amidst the Kansas wheat fields again without another human in sight.
Not being in communication was one thing years ago. It was normal not to be in touch with even closest loved ones for extended periods of time, especially if you were traveling. But today, by golly, if you don’t get an immediate response from a call or a text, panic sets in, and you’ve got to know what’s going on right now.
In many ways, the new norm is good. We all get to share our lives much more with friends and family than ever before. It’s fun to send a quick comment or photo, even if sometimes there’s a little too much sharing, or those tropical beach pictures that aren’t yours create just a wee bit of jealousy. It beats a postcard and the yearly Christmas letter.
I mention all of the above because this weekend We the People will celebrate Memorial Day. Some will watch a car race or two. Others will fire up the grill. Pools will open, pop-tops will splush, and the scent of sunscreen will fill the air. (I’m sure you can find a mattress sale as well.) Communication with loved ones will be part of everyone’s modus operandi. And that’s all good.
But the day belongs to those with whom we can no longer see or hear in person. The original Decoration Day was created to honor soldiers who fell on the battlefields of the Un-Civil War (as broadcaster Paul Harvey used to call it). Unfortunately, our country has been involved in a few more conflicts since that really ugly one, so the holiday has grown to salute all those who gave their lives in defense of our freedoms.
Alas, many of us get so caught up in the festivities of a three-day weekend we tend to forget why we are getting that extra time for fun. But even if you can’t make it to a cemetery to honor a fallen hero, there is something everyone can do. Unbeknownst to me until this year, apparently a national moment of remembrance is observed at 3:00 pm local time on Memorial Day. Maybe you didn’t realize that either.
So, put the phone on mute, set down the cold beverage, look for a flag to face, and pause for a moment. It’s a simple gesture, but a great way to give thanks.
Happy Memorial Day.
MMXVIII. William J. Lewis, III