It began as a smoky day...fires raged a few hours south of here, burning everything in its unforgiving path. For days, the grayish clouds had hung over the otherwise clear, blue skies. The usual fresh smelling air now reeked of burning wood. As I drove to my first of two Memorial Day obligations, I wondered if it would clear at all. The mountains were shrouded. The sun was hidden. Would it shine clearly once again?
I arrived at the early morning ceremony. It had been months in the planning - a dedication of a new Fallen Heroes Memorial in honor of Alaskans who had died while serving their country. Since WWII, there had been 184 of them. Each name now engraved on shining granite walls...this day belonged to them. This was their time to be remembered. And yet the smoke hung thick...so too, I thought, the clouds of war. They envelop the soul; they shroud the mind and heart; they hide the light and make one wonder if it will ever become clear. Will the smoke of those fighting days, the dark clouds of painful memory, will they fade in time?
The ceremony began. Over the next hour or so, we would pay tribute. We would remember. Names would be called one by one. Families would honor their dead; Alaskans would take a moment to say thanks. "God Bless America" would ring out in rousing fashion, and "Taps" would lend its somber tune...
And, almost as if on cue, the smoke started to lift. As we paused to offer our gratitude, the sun started to shine again. The blue sky returned. God was smiling down on us all. I told one veteran who had also come to participate, "It's almost like a movie: the sun came out, and the smoke left as soon as we got started today." He agreed that it was special.
I think that, in that moment, I learned a lesson: gratitude is what chases the storm clouds, the smoke of painful memories and broken dreams, away. Being thankful is what allows the sun to shine, however hidden. For some, these gray skies of war are an ever-present reality. The clouds may lift, but never fully go away. And yet, pausing to be grateful is when God can speak and shine the Light through all that hides. There are always blue skies above the clouds that shroud, the storms that blow in upon us. He is always with us, no matter how dark it seems.
After the ceremony had ended, the sun was shining full and bright. So, also, does the inner light of the soul. Only when the smoke of grayer days has kept it hidden for awhile can we completely appreciate and notice its warmth. It does shine once again. The clouds of war do not remain forever. Thankfulness is what keeps one believing...knowing that the blue sky, the brighter days, are just ahead.
It is the day after. The crowds have gone home, and the bugle notes have faded. But the memories and the gratitude have not. I am still thankful. The names of these fallen still ring in my ears. They live on in my heart. It will be another year before I gather with my fellow Alaskans here again. But let it not be that long until I say thank-you once more. Rather, let every day be Memorial Day. For, in the gratitude of remembering their sacrifice, I see the blue skies once again.