This past weekend, on a beautiful and crisp autumn day, I was driving back from Bass Pro with my 14' Tracker in tow, having had a little work done on it. I don't have any immediate plans for it this fall, but it was nice to get it back after a few weeks, I just like to have all my 'stuff' in one place. I was hurrying a bit, we had plans to unload the boat and immediately head up the road to Charlestown Race Track to place some bets on the great day of racing that is the Breeders Cup. I was excited to plunk some money down on my boy Curlin, who treated me SO well on Preakness day. Good music was streaming in from a satellite overhead, and life was good.
I came upon and began to pass a long string of cars in the right lane with flashers on. Funeral style. As I looked over at the cars to my right, I was struck by how young all the occupants were. Sad, I thought, and thinking of ways that young people die I imagined a car accident.
As I approached the front of the line I saw two immaculate white Cadillacs. The trailing limousine had blacked out windows. The hearse in front did not, and when I saw the casket through the rear door the music in my car, in my head, stopped. An American flag neatly draped over a white coffin. Not an accident victim, but a volunteer soldier, an American hero inside. And a grieving family behind, separated from me by so much more than two panes of glass. A mile of friends and colleagues behind.
I felt a lot of things at that moment. Grief. Gratitude. Pride. And shame. Just moments before I would have said, if there were anyone else in the car to hear, 'what a great little day I got goin' here!' Then reality dragged me out of my car and punched me in the gut so hard I never really got my breath back the rest of the day.
I'm involved, I do some work with wounded vets and think about them often through the course of every day. I do that work because I don't know how else to thank them for theirs. But this day was a reminder that, well, that everyone could use a reminder. And here just a few days later, I can see my boat from the back window of my house, Curlin roared to another victory and helped pay for that last trip to Bass Pro, the songs from my XM radio are once again reaching my brain, our home is blessed with puppiness and, I have to admit, life is good still. Or again. That wind-knocked-out-of-me feeling lasted a while, I still feel a twinge of it now as I write this, but it fades, unfortunately, as it always does.
To the family shrouded in that white limousine traveling west on Interstate 70 outside of Baltimore last Saturday, thank you for your sacrifice. I'm deeply sorry for your loss. And I will try my best to hang on to the feeling that seeing your son or daughter that day gave me. A smaller, more meaningless gesture I can't even imagine, but it's all I know to give. God bless you.