Oh say can you see...
While this large unruly mob of a family took a drive up our local mountain today, I stayed home, hoping to make order from the chaos around here, as well as order from the cacophony in my temples.
The mountain, Mt Baker, is a legitimate, snow-covered mountain, the third highest in the state, at almost 11,000 feet elevation.
And the dawn's early light (though it wasn't dawn, it was light!) that they could see from the mountain was worth the drive. There was snow up there, even on this warm and sunny 4th of July, and their summer clothes weren't quite sufficient for what they found, but the views were breath-taking. On the way home they stopped to take picture of the river running off toward the sea with melting snow making it fast and furious. The day was fair, the company good and even Grampie was happy to be taking a drive. In fact, Grampie thought he needed to help Beve with the navigation toward our home. Nothing like a 'backseat driver' from an Alzheimer's patient. It would have been interesting to find out where they'd have ended up if Beve had followed his dad's directions.
Oh, say can you see?
When they got back we parked ourselves on the back deck and watched games on our yard. Grampie told me later that he'd been laughing at me because "you're really bad at them." He has completely lost his ability to be diplomatic--in the past week, he's asked each of his older two sons how much they weigh these days. And all around us, neighbors were also preparing for their parties, of a shorter duration than ours, of course. Leave it to this family to do everything super-sized, even making a 4th of July celebration last a month! While we were watching plastic American flags hung from deck railings, and smelling hamburgers being grilled on BBQs, those in houses around us were undoubtedly staring down into our party, watching us...watching for example, as three of us tried, without Beve's able presence, to move Grampie from the chaise lounge to his wheelchair.
After dinner there was a moment of real blankness in him. A moment when I had to burst a bubble so poignant I felt like a villain to do it. Beve got a call from a certain man. A man who was married to his sister, Glo. This man, PA, is on the beach near here with his girlfriend and invited us to come out for the evening.
Grampie was eating his dessert of strawberry shortcake at the time, but asked (a bit less coherently than this, but this is what he meant), "Isn't it a little awkward to have Glo, PA and his girlfriend all together like that?"
I was in the kitchen at the time but my sister-in-love alerted me to this question.
Can you see the problem?
I sat down beside him.
"Grampie," I said quietly. "Gloria died. Remember?"
The saddest look crossed his face. Like it had just happened. For a single moment I thought he might cry, though he never has before. Then he rubbed his hand down its contours and said, "Gadfrey, I'm all screwed up."
Imagine the nightmare of reliving such pain again and again. The revisiting of your deepest losses afresh each time you're reminded. This is the reality of Alzheimer's.
We think we have it bad at times. I know I do. And we take for granted what we celebrate on our Independence Day. But the rocket's red glare is the glare of war. Fireworks, though spectacular in the night, are evocative of battle fire. Guns and blasts from cannons. Of great loss. Again and again. There is repeated loss in the history of freedom. We who have lived in free countries don't have a clue what this really mean. Those who have never fought can hardly understand the price fighting takes, even if it doesn't wound beyond the psyche. My niece, fresh off the plane from southern Israel, spend six months in a place where she learned what living in a war zone means. It means "Hell, yes, I was scared." Only the most reckless among us wouldn't be afraid in such conditions as she lived through in one terrible, life-altering week.
Oh, say can you see...
We sing those words, and watch the red glare and the cloud emanating from each burst of pyrotechnic wizardry and we're in awe of the brilliance. We applaud the beauty. Or we buy our own life-sized imitations to set off in our own yards. And barely stop to think that we do this as imitation of the real thing. Of men and women who have had to set such fuses, lit such bombs for our sake. For the sake of the whole world, in a sense. We should sing to that. We should take a moment and stand in silence for them.
Or maybe, maybe not only find it beautiful but know this day is built on blood.
And that is what makes it count all the more.