“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:27
Sometimes moments occur in our lives that effect our heart and soul so profoundly that we want to shout it to the rooftops. Yet there is a hesitation as we don’t want to be seen as grandstanding. Humility is pounded into us from the beginning of our life journey. Those scriptures about not letting the right hand know what the left is doing (Matthew 6:1-4) or do not think too highly of yourself (Romans 12:3) are always nagging at the back of our mind.
This weekend middle daughter and I took the grand princesses out for a morning at the farmers market. We bought jelly and tomatoes and earrings (yes I know….but they were for a good cause) and homemade bread. We laughed as we walked along, enjoying a morning away from life’s chaos that seems to follow our family like a lion stalking prey. Finally we decided we should feed the minions who were making it obvious we had exceeded their tolerance for all things related to outdoor shopping.
As we settled at a table in a local restaurant, the usual conversation ensued. Chicken nuggets or grilled cheese? Sprite or water? Fried pickles or chips and salsa? You know. The important stuff.
Outside there was a roar of motorcycles. Heads turned as at least one hundred riders came down the cobblestone street, flags waving, engines revving. Of course my first thought was irritation at the unwelcome noise that disturbed our peaceful lunch. As leather clad riders continued to flow past, I wondered if they were a gang? (I know….but I grew up in California in the 70’s with the Hell’s Angels in our valley so it’s just something I think about) The street grew quiet as we returned to our meal, thankful the sleeping baby had not even stirred in her stroller.
The bell above the door jangled as the next group of diners entered. Dismayed I took note of the fact that it was some of “those” riders. Good grief. I hoped they wouldn’t get loud or cause a scene. This was, after all, a family lunch place. The last thing we needed was a bunch of drunks at the next table.
Now let me stop here and tell you that sweetheart and I ride a motorcycle regularly. We love going out for long drives. We usually do wear leather and yes I see the hypocrisy of this entire line of thought. But like I said. My thoughts are tainted by events that occurred in my past.
After a few sideways glances, we all settled back down to the serious business of eating before the 3 year old melted down….always a possibility in public. Yet there was something different about this group. Muted conversation as well as a general air of sadness wrapped itself around the table. As I began to look more closely the words “Rolling Thunder” and “Security” reached across the room and slapped me with a force that rocked me back in my chair.
In a rush, my mind zipped back to the morning news that the body of an 82nd Airborne soldier killed in Afghanistan was arriving at the airport that day. This gang, these men and women, these leather clad angels were the escorts for the fallen hero. Volunteers every one, they come from around the country to ride in front of the funeral procession, giving honor to one that would pass unnoticed down the highways if not for their diligence and sacrifice. Tears sprang to my eyes as my heart wrenched in pain.
I have seen too many of these riders, followed behind too many of their two wheeled chariots. Deep in the recesses of my heart, in the darkness of my room, when the cold fingers of fear seeped into my soul, I had wondered what I would say to them if I ever had to view them at the funeral of my son or daughter or husband. I had, over the years, wondered if they ever get thanked in these times of grief and pain. Do they truly know the feelings of deepest appreciation that sits in the heart of the families of the fallen or anyone associated with the military?
God whispered His affirmation to the thoughts that swirled around my brain. With a whispered word of apology to my daughter, I walked to the back of the restaurant to speak to the manager. “I want to pay for that table over there but I don’t want them to know it was me. Can you do that? ”. The words spilled out in a hushed frantic blathering that probably made him wonder if I was partaking of his restaurants large selection of beverages. “All of them?” he asked, slightly incredulous, not knowing exactly what I was asking.
As he looked over my shoulder, realization dawned on him. This is, after all, a military town. A place that would die off into the nothingness of a million small southern towns that come and go with regularity without the base that calls this sandy stretch of North Carolina home. “Of course” he replied. With a tearful smile, I handed him my credit card. “Is there a message for them?” His voice cracked with emotion. “Just tell them they have my deepest thanks and they are true heroes. And please wait until we leave.” He nodded knowingly. “They are amazing, aren’t they?”
I don’t tell you this story so you can tell me how wonderful I am for doing this. I would rather not have told you at all. To have kept it to myself. But these people are true angels. They are heroes in every sense of the word. They deserve our thanks. They deserve to know that what they do brings peace to those of us who send out our family members to step into harm’s way. We never want to see them but when we do, we know that our fallen are surrounded by a selfless act of service born of a love for those who answer the call with the words of Isaiah 6:8 “Here I am Lord, send me.”
If you see the words Rolling Thunder or Patriot Guard on a vest, offer a hand of gratitude. Tell them you appreciate what they do. And if you can, buy them lunch. It’s the least we can do for these angels in leather who have promised they “will never forget”.