Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Very Special Day for a Very Special Young Lady

There are few turning points in life that linger longer than that of high school graduation.  It is a rite of passage in our society, one that travels with us in our memories for years to come.  It is a milestone that truly opens the door to adulthood as the future awaits.

Becca Watkins, a very bright young lady and my niece by marriage, strolled through that door today as she celebrated her graduation from high school.  Becca is a remarkable young woman.  She is conscientious, intelligent, giving, enthusiastic, and filled with a love of life that propels her forward with a special kind of joy.

I have only known Becca for a relatively short amount of time, but in that time I have had the pleasure of witnessing the evolution of a girl into a young woman, ready to face the new challenges of college and adulthood with a package of unique gifts and talents.  Next fall she will be off to college to study education in order to become a teacher one day.  This seems to be a perfect fit for this very bright young lady.

I have seen her with children and she has a talent that is surely from God.  She reaches them through communicating her sincere care and concern for them.  She is not ashamed to become like them whether playing with them on a swing set or showing them something from a book.  She has a soft, sentimental heart that extends to her family in a very special way.

Recently, Becca lost her paternal grandfather.  I witnessed her young heart wounded by this turn of events.  She was close to her grandpa.  She faced his illness with strength and dignity, visiting him as often as she could, her heart breaking every time she saw him slipping away.  Yet, she persevered.  It was a difficult loss for her, but through it all, I saw a young woman who did not run from the pain of the loss of a loved one, but faced the hurt with her head held high and her heart in prayer.

Now Becca takes her place in the world of collegiate academics.  A new world and new challenges lay before her.  I am sure she will reach her goal and become a teacher who will, for many years to come, touch the hearts of her students in ways that will last their lifetimes.

It has been my privilege to be a small part of Becca's life.  She is a very special young woman and will accomplish much.  Her parents can been quite proud of a daughter who has adopted their values and applied them to her life in a unique and moving way. 

I wish you the best, Becca, and may the joy of this graduation day be the launching pad of untold joys and happiness in the future.  Your future students will most certainly benefit from having known you and that walk across the stage to accept your diploma today is only the first step into an exciting future that I look forward to being a part of!

Congratulations Becca!

Memorial Day 2010

This is the first holiday weekend of summer!  Picnics have been planned.  Millions of people are traveling hundreds of miles to visit family and friends.  The local pools are about to throw open their doors for the hot weather season.  The time most Americans have been waiting for, endless days of warm sunshine, has arrived.

In the midst of this celebration of the welcoming back of summer, we cannot forget to pause this weekend and remember our fallen dead, those who have given their last full measure of devotion so that we may welcome summer in our own way, in freedom and peace.

The original Memorial Day was set aside to honor the fallen dead of the bloodiest American conflict, the Civil War.  Adjutant General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Civil War veterans, ordered in a proclamation that, "The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."  Thus began the observance of what we now call Memorial Day.

In the south, citizens gathered in cemeteries to place flowers and wreaths on the graves of their fallen heroes to honor their memory on what they called Decoration Day.  The southern commemoration was actually held separately from the northern observance until after WWI when congress declared that the entire nation should come together to honor all the nation's war dead on one day.

This weekend, we must remember that while we have peace in the land here at home, a brutal war is still being waged on the deserts of Afghanistan.  Thousands of troops are keeping watch over a tentative peace in Iraq as that country rebuilds.  On the Korean peninsula, thousands of American troops watch on as North Korea rattles it's saber, threatening war on the South.  And in countless outposts throughout the world, young American men and women serve their country, ensuring that peace is the norm rather than the exception.

Memorial Day is a somber occasion.  It is also a sacred occasion because we come together to honor all who have so nobly served.  We celebrate their memories with moments of silence out of respect for the lives they lived and secured for us the freedom to live life as we see fit.  We honor them for their self-sacrifice, leaving family and friends to go into the world to defend those who are too weak to fend for themselves.  We remember the past and are stirred by their stories of heroic bravery in the face of brutality.  We look to the present to see the ever present danger they encounter as new enemies threaten our way of life.  And because so many gave that last full measure of devotion, we can look to the future with hope in our hearts that all will be well because there were countless Americans who came forward to fight for freedom wherever freedom had come under attack. 

Enjoy the weekend.  Get your fill of hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, steaks, and tall cold glasses of lemonade, but do not fail to honor in your own way those who have died so that these weekend celebrations may continue into the future.  We live in uncertain times but one thing is certain.  America has always been the vanguard of freedom.  Thank you to all of you who have served your country!  And may God bless those who did give "their last full measure of devotion."


Life consists of one change after another.  Change provides the flow of a life.  It also provides the challenges that we often meet along our way.

The view out our front door has always been refreshing and quite soothing.  It was a wooded area with many trees and shrubs insulating us against the noises of modern urban life.  The woods have been home to deer, turkeys, frogs, and countless species of birds.  It is like living in the middle of a wild-life refuge.  It is not unusual for us to look out our window on any given day and spot several deer.  We often have the surprise and pleasure of seeing wild turkeys grace our bird feeding area. 

However, in the last few weeks, the "progress" of modern life has literally changed the landscape!

We live off a very busy road that carries thousands of cars and trucks per day.  It is a two lane street that has long since outlived its usefulness as traffic is bumper-to-bumper during every rush hour.  As a result, the state of Missouri has decided to re-route the road and, at the same time, widen the thoroughfare.  The new route the road will be taking brings it straight through our little slice of nature.

A few weeks ago, massive road building equipment entered the property and promptly began plowing through the wooded area.  Trees, which have stood for decades, came tumbling down with little effort from the powerful machinery.  Land which had been untouched by human hand for years, was plowed under and turned over.  Great scars in the earth opened up and where there was once the lush green of the woods there is now the dried brown of the newly exposed earth.  The landscape has been forever changed.

It is sad to see these few remaining vestiges of nature within an urban setting disappearing.  One of the things that drew us to our home was the fact that it had such a peaceful feeling to it.  Now, before we know it, a four lane highway, complete with bustling noisy traffic, will be racing not more than 200 yards from our front door.  Twelve foot high sound suppression walls will be erected to hide the noise where once stood graceful, majestic trees of an undetermined age.  Horns and the sounds of metal grinding against metal as vehicles collide will replace the morning songs of the countless songbirds that once called this area home.

The photos above clearly illustrate what is happening to our neighborhood.  The top picture is a photo of what the view out our front door once was.  The bottom picture is as it appears now.  What a difference!

For most, the change that is coming will be a welcome change.  Travel times using the busy highway will be greatly diminished.  The road will be far safer than the current one.  These are all positive developments.  But for us, the residents who once enjoyed nature in a very unique way just outside our front door, there is a sadness at the passing what was once an oasis of nature amidst the urban sprawl.  That's progress!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Death In A Small Town

Before I came to live in the metropolitan area of St. Louis, I lived in a small town in central Illinois.  It is situated amidst expansive corn and bean fields with sweeping vistas of the prairie land in every direction.  It is a peaceful place populated with hard working families that produces a sense of family among the residents.  Because of this atmosphere, whenever a death occurs, the community experiences the loss.  But when the deceased is someone very young, the loss is even more greatly felt.

Such is the sad case that began to unfold in the early morning hours of May 5.  A young nineteen year old girl driving her car on a rural highway ran into the rear end of a car ahead of her and both cars went careening into the path of an oncoming semi.  The massive truck slammed into both vehicles.  When it was all over, the truck drive was uninjured, the driver of the car that the other car hit received only minor injuries, but the driver of the car that hit the back end of the other car was critically injured.  She had to be airlifted to a hospital in a larger nearby city.  There was little hope, apparently, from the beginning that she would survive.  A little earlier today, May 6, she succumbed to her horrible injuries.  She was only 19.

Word of her death spread instantaneously throughout the small town.  A pall of sadness has settled in over the little community.  Everyone in the town obviously feels a sense of loss that is personal even if they never met the young victim.  In a small town, this kind of loss is personal.

It has always been the case in small towns that everyone knows everyone else.  Or at least that's the perception.  There is a level of care and kindness that is palpable when compared to bigger cities.  It is a place in which the term neighbor has not lost its true meaning.  Everyone is connected in some way or another.  And so when a younger member of the community dies tragically, all pause for a moment to understand that it was one of their own who died and that they probably know someone who is either related to the deceased or at least knows them.

This is the heart of America.  The spirit of America which seems, in so many communities, to be dead, is alive and well in this small Midwestern town.  And so it is today.  The town is united in sadness over the passing of one of its youngest citizens.  Prayers are being offered for the family and food is being prepared to be delivered to the grieving family's home to help them through the next few horrible days. 

The memory of the young girl will be first and foremost on the citizenry's mind.  Many who never knew her will attend her funeral.  All will weep each in their own way.  The sadness will effect everyone in as many different ways as there are citizens.  The city will be gripped in the story of this promising young lady's death.  And in days to come, the resiliency of the citizens of Small Town America will begin to manifest itself.  Life will resume its normal pace but the young lady who died as the result of the tragic accident on a lonely rural highway will linger.  People will comfort one another and life will move on with the town a little more closely knit.

Life is experienced a little more differently in a small town.  And so is death.  There is the stabbing sting of the death and the loss of a young person that permeates each household.  But there also is the comfort of neighbor reaching out to neighbor.  There is the assurance that this, too, shall pass.  And there is the assurance to the family of the victim that they shall not pass through this time alone.  A whole community composed mainly of strangers will stand arm-in-arm behind them ready to give comfort and aid to them.  While the wound of the loss is deep, that wound will heal because of the balm that is the Small Town.